Finding the Poetry in Each of Us: Carlos Contreras at TEDxABQED



I met Robert four years ago he was quiet unassuming shy he has dusty brown hair and bright hazel eyes Roberts about my size at first he seemed nervous but as I got to know him I realize that's because not everybody gets a window with the surety of who he is comes across and words Robert is a prolific writer Adam tell me once he writes 3,000 words a day for Robert words are an escape the Neil I met recently as part of my writing workshop I pretty much begged him to be a part of it I was drawn in by his withdrawn presence and the fact that he has are on most visible parts of his body he's intimidating at first sight that is until he smiles when he speaks the comfort in his voice envelops the room but he's a quiet type of confident the Neil speaks with his hands he's a visual artist he needs little more than a few colored pencils in a blank page to show you where he's been the images he creates have graced numerous gallery walls he'll never have the pleasure of seeing you see both of these men are inmates at MDC the Metropolitan Detention Center where I work a place where i go to spend time with some of the most beautiful and talented minds I've ever laid witness to weekly I walk into holding areas of 96 men knocking on cell doors calling out last names and inviting anyone that wants to come to my classroom yeah classroom I never figured I'd be teaching much less than a jail with but when offered the opportunity I apprehensively accepted and now I'm thankful because through poetry exchanged in time spent I've learned things some of the most important things I've learned is that I'm no different than some of my students and neither are most of you only our outfits are different our addresses but humanity is our common thread and in that room we are revealing that commonality but this population the experiences are varied some I don't see more than once others I've known long enough to become familiar with their body of work most if not all of them though join for the same reason it was something to do something to pass the time but over time I've seen that purpose change I've witnessed the power of poetry to provide an escape because in that room it's not about pending charges or the uncertainty of futures in fact there is no wrong just right and so we do and they share I never make anyone present but most if not all of them are eager to lend their voice to a circle of men just like themselves men who can try to understand maybe even empathize but never dismiss we have discussions about giving these tools now the second time around when they get out making better decisions might be possible what happens then my friends is incredible poetry begins to connect and men populations art finds its place in a place where over 3,000 people are searching for something ever since I've been conducting writing workshops at the Metropolitan Detention Center I've seen the environment change our education and access to it are allowing folks to access a place within themselves that at first wasn't possible we are seeing numerous people transition back to lives on that outs as they call it hell we're even sending some to college ladies and gentlemen I'm not a scientist I'm no magician I can only tell you what I witnessed men riding their lives by way of poetry men searching for something many of whom will get out and join us again so what we do with them then while they're in the system of rehabilitations and corrections becomes increasingly important we should strive to help them be productive so that we composite them back into communities as examples of someone who isn't and wasn't perfect but is willing to try and change through poetry I've seen that product to be encouraged let's be real though not all will get out many will remain incarcerated until some of our children have children but believe it or not I see poetry speak to these riders too they all live in a place where taking risk is seemingly unallowable but when we get in that room eyewitness men finding feelings they never knew they had when I asked him to do silly things like right about hands or consider yourself a recipe what goes into making who you are my next instruction or order operations with beata not worry about what comes out not to worry about how things are spelled because that is what editing's for and it's funny over time most of our poets come to realize they're just like that poem worth fixing because nobody's perfect we all lose our way sometimes but I believe there is a route back towards positivity and growth and in that room poetry is becoming that path we see each other as poets before skin color authors before socioeconomic status and otherwise there is no wrong just right I have participants telling me they write poetry now because they figure it'll be a way to connect with their kids when they get out participants are forgiving themselves and others remember the prompt about hands not all poems talked about the comfort many of us have come to know from the palms of parents but not all the tales of things violent and what I'm getting at is in that room for an hour at a time poetry seems to be painting us is simply human more alike than we would have imagined or maybe even wanted to believe but that's because poetry knows no bounds it bears no restrictions it only restricts those not willing to take the risk to write those men like many of you and I have come to realize that they are flawed but willing to heal I've learned from them I've learned my way of teaching happens because there's poetry in each of us we just gotta find it for you the processing tools may be different but i believe the journey is something that connects us like letters one that binds us like books a journey of healing so I ask you if you know when someone struggling somebody lost or alone grab a pen pick up a book offer up a poem it doesn't need to be staged reading some of the best poetry comes from simple truths stories about loss and pain that have told any other way would be uncomfortable there is comfort here an escape Robert would tell you it takes him three thousand words a day lenia a few colored pencils in a blank page I wonder what is it for you you

4 thoughts on “Finding the Poetry in Each of Us: Carlos Contreras at TEDxABQED

  1. WOW…… Thank you for those powerful and inspiring words kind sir, for they touched my very soul. You seem like an amazing person. May God continue blessing you in all that you do.

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