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Juvenile Offenders In Utah Win National Poetry Contest

Wavetop via

UPDATE: KUER learned late Thursday that one of the kids featured in this story, D.P., plagiarized his contest winning the poem “Drowning in Blue”.

Much of the poem, including the title, was taken from the poet and novelist Ellen Hopkins.

Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings has removed the poem from its website and has awarded first place to a young poet from Wyoming.

Several juvenile offenders in Utah got high honors this week for their submissions to a national poetry contest. Utahns took 1st and 2nd place this year.

Every year the Center For Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings asks young people who are incarcerated to submit a poem to the Words Unlocked Contest. It gives offenders a voice, and an opportunity to have their work published.  S.B. is 17 years old. I can’t use his real name. He got honorable mention for a poem about his relationship with his father. It’s called “Shards”.

“We walk barefoot on two parallel paths. Yours a road. Mine a path of broken glass,” he reads.

S.B. says working with his poetry teacher Bonnie Shaw over the last few months has helped him realize the strength of his commitment-for better or worse.

“My goal wasn’t to get deeper and deeper into the system, but that was a result of me being committed to doing the wrong things,” S.B. says.

The hope of getting a poem published is what Bonnie Shaw, their poetry teacher says is so important.

“I could come in and say we’re going to write poems. No. You lose focus,” Shaw says. “You don’t get it done. You don’t do your best. And that’s what the contest does. We have a goal.”

Eighteen-year-old D.P. has always been a writer and avid reader. He outshined about 1000 submissions to win first prize.  D.P says his favorite writers, Maya Angelou and Ellen Hopkins inspire him to tackle what he calls “real” issues. His poem, “Drowning In Blue” describes his struggle with bipolar disorder.

“Bad genes have doomed me to seesaw, white to blue, blue to white, for the rest of my life. Pitiful, painful. Possible,” D.P. reads.

He says he doesn’t want his life to be defined by the extreme mood swings that come with his illness.  

“Maybe there is a chance to stop fighting the crashing of the waves,” D.P. reads. “Up and down. Maybe it’s time to find balance and peace. Peace and hope. Maybe I can find the strength, the strength to float.”

Both young men are housed at Wasatch Youth Center. The 2nd place winner is a female who is in the custody of the Utah Department of Child and Family Services. I wasn’t cleared to speak with her about her poem. A link to the 2017 winners can be found here

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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