Chicago Box

Today at Real Toads, Kerry has shared with us the poetry of Ingrid Jonker, a South African poet.  We were take a personal relationship and turn it into a poem.  For some reason, yesterday I decided to search out some of my former students, from when I was teaching in juvenile detention setting.  I know.  What was I thinking?  It was horrible and depressing and I found way too many by their mugshots.  I’ve chosen to focus on one young man, a student from those first couple of years as a teacher, back when I was going to change the world.


Rescued from a wretched

life on the streets,

fending for yourself

living in a Chicago box

beneath the water tower.

Rescue meant detention,

not much better~

not enough food or beds,

sleeping on the floor.

Watch your back!

Keep those survival skills.

Might not be the street,

but it’s still not safe.

Case comes to court,

Lawyers and judges say

get sent away to detention

disguised as a school.

Chance to to be what you are

a kid dying to have fun~

freedom  for the first time

as you’re sent away from

home on the Chicago streets.

Laughing and learning,

safe to sleep in security;

a student and a kid for

only a short time in between.

Sentence is up;

you played the legal game,

a successful discharge, so

return to where you came from,

back to those Chicago streets

childhood gone again;

drugs and guns and gangs

bang, bang, bang

sitting today in your

Chicago prison box

for the rest of your days.

I cry for the fun loving

and laughing kid I knew,

the man I hoped you’d be,

instead of a kid

sitting forever in a box.


I actually broke down and cried when I found the poem he wrote from prison.  Find it HERE.

14 thoughts on “Chicago Box

  1. I too feel the despair linger after reading your poem! How many lives have felt like this, how many lost souls? It hurts to think of someone feeling this way…
    I am glad you shared it…we need to feel so we can change!

  2. the man I hoped you’d be,

    I can’t help, that even if they end up in a “Chicago box” that any tenderness and kindness shown them might cling inside them – make a difference some day. This poem tells the story well of our broken system…

  3. What a pair of very powerful poems, Teresa. Your young man’s voice(as read so well by the young woman) is strong, smart and heartrending–what a terrible waste, and how little too many people care. Thanks for this.Those are the streets I ran away from years ago, and I know they’re even meaner now.

  4. Yes, Teresa in each of them I believe there is a fun-loving spirit yearning to be free of all this mess…your last portion is so poignant…the image of a little boy in a box. So sad. Nicely written.

  5. “. . . nigga is the foolish knowledge being pumped through these streets.” I cried too. You move me today with this relationship in the depth of your ministry. You move me with your poem “Chicago box.” We have boxes in Philadelphia too to store those who lost the laughter of childhood in outrageous neglect.

  6. This is a heart-breaking story you have told, Teresa. We know its truth in the way you have told it, and listening to the young man’s words makes me realize that even the hardened criminal longs for better days.

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