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Jun-05-2014 08:19printcomments

Oregon Youth Wins First Place for Poem About Meth

Aaron's poem, "Meth," took top honors in Words Unlocked, a poetry competition sponsored by the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings. The poem is at the end of the story.

Kim DeForest and Aaron
Teacher Kim DeForest (left) with Aaron. Photo Courtesy: Oregon Youth Authority

(ROSEBURG, Ore. ) - A panel of judges that included Chelsea Clinton has awarded first place in a national contest to a poem written by Aaron, an at-risk youth in the care of Oregon's juvenile justice agency.

Aaron's poem, "Meth," took top honors in Words Unlocked, a poetry competition sponsored by the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings. Clinton was among four judges who ranked Aaron's poem first out of 430 entries nationwide. Aaron, 20, has been held since 2013 by the Oregon Youth Authority at Rogue Valley Youth Correctional Facility in Grants Pass. His hometown is Roseburg, Oregon.

This is the second consecutive year that a poem written by a youth in OYA's care took first place in the Words Unlocked competition. Last year's winner was a young woman from Oak Creek Youth Correctional Facility in Albany, Oregon who took top honors for her poem, "Hell's Angel." This year's second place winner, Mariah, wrote her poem at the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center in Salem, Oregon.

"The accomplishments of Aaron and the other youth recognized by Words Unlocked prove that incarceration doesn't need to stifle creative expression," said OYA Director Fariborz Pakseresht.

"Our youth are talented, and so are the educators who serve them. I commend Aaron, his teachers and all the other young poets for being courageous enough to express themselves and to submit their work for judging in a national competition."

A total of 98 youth in local or state custody in Oregon submitted poems for the competition. "Meth" and poems by seven other OYA youth will be published in the Words Unlocked 2014 Anthology.

"A number of English teachers working inside OYA facilities are doing a terrific job developing the writing skills of students in their care," said David Domenici, CEEAS executive director. "It isn't a coincidence that so many OYA students are producing such meaningful, creative poems in the last two years. It is a testament to the teachers and their commitment to making teaching and learning relevant, engaging and rigorous."

At Rogue Valley, Aaron is a student at Newbridge High School, operated at the facility by the Three Rivers School District. He already has his GED and is working toward graduating from high school June 24.

Aaron credited teacher Kim DeForest for encouraging his creativity. "If it wasn't for her that poem wouldn't have been entered in the competition," he said. DeForest praised Words Unlocked for "giving me the opportunity to have my students read and watch spoken poetry at a greater depth than I would have been able to do on my own. Having the opportunity to hear such personal stories being told as poems helped my students realize that words can be powerful, even if the word count is small."

Aaron and DeForest will be featured on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" program Sunday, June 8. Check local stations for air times.

April was National Poetry Month and entries for Words Unlocked were due in May. In addition to Clinton, judges for the competition included Reginald Dwayne Betts, Joaquin Zihuatanejo and Josh Lefkowitz. For placing first, Aaron will receive a certificate, inclusion in the Words Unlocked 2014 Anthology, a signed copy of Zihuatanejo's book, "Family Tree," and a $100 cash prize.


Poem below by Aaron; title is "Meth" and formatting is unique to the poem.

is such a wonderful thing.
At least
it seems to be.
It makes you so happy, you see things clearer, and
you feel so incredible.
Almost like some out of
this world superhero. Turning the
pipe with your lighter underneath. Watching
the puddle as it melts down from a crystal
web of cracks. Into a smoking, bubbling puddle rolling
smoke up the stem. Into your lungs, through your veins,
straight to the brain. Exhale ... Pure white,
cloud carrying your worries away.
But beneath this cloud of amphetamines,
lurks the killer of families.
It's the bearer of heartbreak, the destroyer of futures.
It will chew you up and spit you out in the
most despicable places. It picks you up and floods
your mind
images of freedom, paradise, and utopia.
beyond the picture is what you don't see.
What happens when you're let down from its grip.
It takes your families, your kids, your heart, soul, and mind;
It robs you of your
hopes, dreams, and future;
And short-sells it to the next generation as
a faux promise. What will
Crystal Meth
give to you? Is that what you want your life to be?
I fell for the lies and tricks this inanimate substance
played on me. Like a puppet I was yanked by these strings.
Plucked straight out of space and time, and tossed in this prison.
To think, to regret, to reminisce, in the promises never fulfilled.
How beautiful
would be, if I hadn't believed
the promises that crystal meth had made to me.


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