Poet Gina Loring on lost potential of LA’s incarcerated youth

BY Mary Jo Brooks  May 20, 2014 at 1:09 PM EST

“It’s not just about the work on the page, it’s about where you put your feet when you get out of bed in the morning.”

That was the mantra of Eloise Klein Healy when she created the graduate writing program at Antioch University in Los Angeles. Healy firmly believed that writers and poets must be engaged with their community to make their work more relevant. Antioch requires that all students in the MFA program complete a community service project that fosters the “writing lives” of others.

To fulfill her field study requirement, poet Gina Loring began working with InsideOut Writers, a writing program for incarcerated youth. It’s work that she continues, three years after earning her graduate degree. Loring said she has always felt a sense of connection to the youth she works with, “since there but by the grace of God go I.”

She believes the judicial system does a large disservice to many young people who have never had a fair chance at life. “I am moved by many of the teenagers behind bars and find myself simultaneously inspired and outraged by their stories. Some of them are a true testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Others will never know life outside of the vicious cycle of incarceration.”

Loring wrote this poem in response to her work with InsideOut Writers.

Inspired by the teens in Central Juvenile Hall, Los Angeles

The air catches each dream above their heads
loops itself around the claustrophobic room, bouncing from brick to brick
this place where potential goes to rest
stops extending towards the moon
surrenders to sinking
the quicksand floor
swallowing even laughter.
Under shadowed skies it is impossible to see the sun, remember what it feels like on skin
believe there is something beyond this moment
but then, there is the soft and strong pull of awakening
the spirit spark rekindled
we are all beating hearts
there is no space between us
I see myself in the shape of their skin,
the midnight hum of the building
the breezeless still
hanging cold from each wall.