Out Of Juvenile Corrections, Poems Of Fury, Loss — And Lingering Beauty

“If you can write this out and give it to society,” Jimmy Santiago Baca told NPR last month, “it’s going to allow them to take the blinders off and see what’s really going on with you in your life.” Hill Street Studios/Getty Images/Blend Images RM hide caption

toggle caption Hill Street Studios/Getty Images/Blend Images RM

It has been nearly a month now since National Poetry Month wrapped up, but don’t let the calendar fool you: All Things Considered still has some unfinished business with the month that was.

That’s because, just a few weeks ago, NPR’s Michel Martin checked in with the Words Unlocked poetry contest. The competition — launched in 2013 by the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings — drew more than 1,000 poem submissions from students in juvenile correctional facilities across the country.

Here’s how the final judge of the contest, poet Jimmy Santiago Baca, broke it down then.

“They have a national program where kids submit their work, and they go into literacy programs in the facilities,” Baca said. The students’ work “goes to several judges, and ultimately it gets to me. And I have to pick the winners out of the top 15 poems.”

Well, Baca and company have now picked those winners for 2016. After three rounds of reviews, two poets emerged with a tie for first place: C.R., from Utah’s Salt Lake Valley Detention Center, and Kevin, who is at Duval Academy in Florida.

Because they are minors, NPR could not use their last names, but the poets themselves did us one better — they recorded their winning poems for us.

Below, you can find those poems in full, together with audio of the poets winning their work aloud. And you can read more of the Words Unlocked finalists right here.


‘Furious,’ By C.R.

I feel the heat in my body like I am bathed in sun.
Palms sweaty. Muscles tensed. Tears well up.

I won’t let them run.

My face red, the flames of fire, angry thoughts screaming louder than the screeching of a vulture over a traveler’s carcass.

I look for a way to escape the flames, but I am trapped in a box.

Punching white walls as jagged as rocks, my knuckles bleed.
I want to shout behind the green door that won’t let me out.

Alpha, Bravo, Charlie – to me they’re all the same. I feel more like the number on my file than my real name. When I speak to my father, I leave ashamed. I try to do my best but anger, stress, sadness are hidden in my chest, heart, soul.

Group homes, proctor care, secure facilities hanging over my head like a
knife swinging from a rope.

They try to dissect me. I guess they’re curious.

I don’t even understand: Why am I so furious?


‘My Reality,’ By Kevin

Visions of joy slowly spiral
into view, mid-slumber

Desire always hits hard

I remember the paleness of her features,
recognize her desperate pleas

but I’m lost
like the first chances
I will never get back

I lie in bed, consumed
by her breathtaking smile

I reach out

as she drifts further and further away

I awake from my slumber
hoping to see her
by my side

Reality hits me hard
like a hurricane in mid-August

strikes me like the uppercut
I wasn’t expecting

fills my body
with a familiar, pulsing pain

All I can see
are the white brick walls

plain

The tree branches sag
outside the bars of my window

The scenery brings me back
to a small town in North Dakota,
a place I found comfort

I think back to hiking up a hill
on a beaten path overgrown with vegetation

I remember my grandpa,

remember our first tee-off
under a sky of velvet,

how proud he was
when I scored my first par

But I’m still here

on the top bunk,
a cold, dull slab I call home

spine-shivering

I strain to see them
from behind these numbing bars

There is beauty in the struggle
I must remember that

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Going There: The Future Of Water

National Public Radio host, Michel Martin talks to the audience at the live performance of Martin's Going There at Colorado State University Tuesday May 24, 2016. The show was titled,

National Public Radio host, Michel Martin talks to the audience at the live performance of Martin’s Going There at Colorado State University Tuesday May 24, 2016. The show was titled, ” The Future of Water.” V. Richard Haro/Richard Haro Photography hide caption

toggle caption V. Richard Haro/Richard Haro Photography

Michel Martin traveled to Fort Collins, Colo. to talk with Kathleen Curry, Patty Limerick, Roger Fragua and Paolo Bacigalupi about owning water and dealing with a future where water may be scarce.

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Arms Embargo Lift Also Means More Regular U.S. Military Visits To Vietnam

President Barack Obama walks with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang as they review a guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on May 23.

President Barack Obama walks with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang as they review a guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi on May 23. AFP/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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President Obama’s decision to lift the arms embargo against Vietnam was about much more than selling weapons. It was about sending a message to China.

Not only may Vietnam begin buying American ships and surveillance equipment, it could also begin hosting regular visits by U.S. military units, including U.S. Navy warships at Cam Ranh Bay. Such trips would put American sailors square into waters that China is claiming it controls, making clear the U.S. rejects those claims and reassuring China’s nervous neighbors in the region — or so Washington hopes.

“It is important for us to maintain the freedom of navigation and the governance of international norms and rules and law that have helped to create prosperity and promoted commerce and peace and security in this region,” President Obama said.

The U.S. engaged in large military operations at Cam Ranh Bay during the Vietnam War more than four decades ago. Giving U.S. ships more regular access into the area may stir up ghosts in Vietnam of that conflict, but the presence of the American warships — which have already visited Vietnamese ports in recent years — could help soothe concern over China’s muscle-flexing in the region.

Troopers of the First Brigade of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division arrived at Cam Ranh Bay on July 29, 1965.

Troopers of the First Brigade of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division arrived at Cam Ranh Bay on July 29, 1965. AP hide caption

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China has been trying to exert sovereignty over the South China Sea, a territory that is rich in oil and gas, and fish, and through which more than $5 trillion worth of global trades passes each year. China lays claim to a number of islands and recently has been building artificial islands out of reefs and atolls, turning them into military outposts complete with ports, radar facilities and landing strips.

The U.S. maintains the South China Sea is an international waterway, where ships can pass freely and unimpeded. To that end, it’s carried out naval and air operations to challenge China’s territorial claims.

Anthony Nelson, director of the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, says China’s aggressive behavior really changes the dynamic in the region.

“We’ve seen a real change in the security environment in the region with China’s rise, and I think the U.S. has seen that Vietnam is one of the countries that looks at the region and sees the U.S. as a really positive partner and a force for the continued international order,” he says.

In response to China’s moves in the South China Sea, the U.S. has been tightening some of its security partnerships and increasing its military presence in the region, says Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the coauthor of a book on U.S.-China security relations, Strategic Reassurance and Resolve.

“It’s move, counter-move,” he says. “Hopefully, it’s short of war.”

The U.S. already has naval bases in Japan, Korea and Singapore. It also recently signed a new security agreement with the Philippines to open eight small bases for maritime operations.

Better relations with Vietnam would enhance U.S. presence in the region. The U.S. Navy already made four port visits in Vietnam in 2015. O’Hanlon says ultimately the U.S. would like the opportunity to increase the frequency or significance of its visits to Cam Ranh Bay if China continues its “bullying.”

“In a worst case,” he says, “we can imagine an alliance with Vietnam or a permanent military presence in Cam Ranh Bay as a way to give us additional places from which to watch Chinese activity to help defend allies.”

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Lightning Strikes Child's Party in Paris And Soccer Match In Germany, Injuring Dozens

A fire truck is parked at the entrance to Monceau parc in the center of Paris, France, on Saturday, after a lightning bolt crashed down onto a Paris park, striking 11 people at a child's birthday party.

A fire truck is parked at the entrance to Monceau parc in the center of Paris, France, on Saturday, after a lightning bolt crashed down onto a Paris park, striking 11 people at a child’s birthday party. Francois Mori/AP hide caption

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More than 40 people were injured from lightning strikes in two separate incidents in Europe on Saturday.

Lighting hit a children’s birthday party in an upscale Paris park, injuring at least 11 people, AFP reports. Police say most of the victims were children and six of them were seriously injured, according to the news agency.

According to Paris city councilor Karen Taieb, the group at Parc Monceau had “taken shelter under a tree,” AFP adds.

“They have burns,” local official Vincent Baladi said, according to the news service. “The lightning struck suddenly.”

Paris fire service spokesman Eric Moulin tells the AP that an off-duty fireman who happened to be visiting a nearby museum immediately rushed to the scene. There, he found “nine of the 11 victims prone on the ground under the tree.” He then proceeded to administer “first aid, including heart massages, and helped direct rescuers to the scene.”

“Without his actions, it would have been much worse,” Moulin told the AP.

The wire service describes the scene in footage shot by the fire service of a “makeshift treatment center” in a nearby bank:

“Children wrapped in gold thermal blankets lay on the bank’s tiled floor as firefighters administered first aid before evacuating the victims to area hospitals in Paris. Two small feet, smudged with what looked like soot, stuck out from underneath one of the blankets.”

As The Washington Post notes, on Friday, “the country’s meteorological service warned about the possibility of thunderstorms throughout the weekend.”

#MeteoduWE Attention aux #orages ce we : du SO au NE samedi, ils gagnent le SE dimanche > https://t.co/XcVw8u8xNS pic.twitter.com/eGMKcFlS8k

— Météo-France (@meteofrance) May 27, 2016

Also Saturday, another lightning strike hit a children’s soccer game in Hoppstaedten in western Germany, injuring 35 people. Like the Paris case, most of the injured are children, as the DPA wire service reports. Three adults (including the game’s referee) sustained “serious injuries,” while 30 children and 2 other adults were hospitalized because of irregular heartbeats.

And like Paris, the lighting happened unexpectedly. As police spokesman tells DPA, “There was no rain and no dark sky according to witnesses.”

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World Health Organization Dismisses Calls To Move Or Postpone Rio Olympics

Health workers get ready to spray insecticide to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that transmits the Zika virus in January, under the bleachers of the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, which will be used for the Archery competition in the 2016 summer games.

Health workers get ready to spray insecticide to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that transmits the Zika virus in January, under the bleachers of the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, which will be used for the Archery competition in the 2016 summer games. Leo Correa/AP hide caption

toggle caption Leo Correa/AP

The World Health Organization is trying to ease concerns about spreading Zika as a result of this summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janiero.

“Based on current assessment, cancelling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus,” a statement released Saturday reads.

This comes a day after more than 150 scientists released an open letter to the head of WHO calling for the games to be moved or postponed, citing new research. “We make this call despite the widespread fatalism that the Rio 2016 Games are inevitable or ‘too big to fail,'” the letter says. Here’s more:

“An unnecessary risk is posed when 500,000 foreign tourists from all countries attend the Games, potentially acquire the strain, and return home to places where it can become endemic. Should that happen to poor, as-yet unaffected places (e.g., most of South Asia and Africa) the suffering can be great. It is unethical to run the risk, just for Games that could proceed anyway, if postponed and/or moved.”

The Paralynpic Athlete, Marcelo Collet, on Tuesday in Salvador, Brazil.

The Paralynpic Athlete, Marcelo Collet, on Tuesday in Salvador, Brazil. Felipe Oliveira/Getty Images hide caption

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It called on WHO to conduct a new assessment of its recommendations regarding Zika and the games, citing concerns about the medical consequences of the strain of the virus found in Brazil.

The Olympics are set to start in just 69 days and as The Guardian noted, the Olympic torch is already touring Brazil on its way to the opening ceremonies.

“The fire is already burning, but that is not a rationale not to do anything about the Olympics,” said Amir Attaran, a University of Ottawa professor and one of the letter’s four co-authors, told The Guardian. “It is not the time now to throw more gasoline on to the fire.”

Attaran recently published a commentary for the Harvard Public Health Review and spoke with All Things Considered about his controversial position. “[T]he odds are extremely high that somebody will take the disease elsewhere and seed a new outbreak,” he said.

As the WHO states, “based on the current assessment of Zika virus circulating in almost 60 countries globally and 39 countries in the Americas, there is no public health justification for postponing or cancelling the games.” It advises people coming for the games to follow public health advice, like guarding against mosquito bites and practicing safe sex.

The new letter from the scientists “will cause a fresh headache for Brazilian government officials and Olympic organisers, who have repeatedly insisted the Games can go ahead safely as long as athletes and visitors smother themselves in insect repellent to minimise the risks from the mosquito-borne disease,” as The Guardian reports.

Brazil’s president is facing impeachment proceedings and the country is in the middle of an economic recession.

According to Reuters, the International Olympic Committee says it was not consulted on the WHO’s response. The wire service adds that the IOC “has repeatedly said the virus would not pose a threat to the Games.”

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It's The Zika Virus In Action, Drawn By A Scientist-Artist

The two pinkish spheres are the Zika virus (the one at left is depicted in cross section). Surrounded by blood plasma molecules, the virus is shown interacting with the receptors, colored green, on the surface of a cell.

The two pinkish spheres are the Zika virus (the one at left is depicted in cross section). Surrounded by blood plasma molecules, the virus is shown interacting with the receptors, colored green, on the surface of a cell. David S. Goodsell hide caption

toggle caption David S. Goodsell

A watercolor by scientist-artist David S. Goodsell just might make the Zika virus easier to visualize. The painting, which depicts an area about 110 nanometers wide (a nanometer is a billionth of a meter), shows the virus in the process of infecting a cell.

Zika is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected female Aedes mosquito. Though the virus was originally discovered in a rhesus monkey in Uganda’s Zika forest in 1947, the first study determining the structure of the virus was only published in March of this year. Goodsell used this research from the Purdue Institute for Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Diseases for his painting, which shows the spherical pinkish Zika virus (also appearing in cross section at center left) advancing on a blue cell by binding with the cell’s squiggly green protein receptors. Surrounding the spherical virus are tan blood plasma proteins; within the virus is a tangle of yellow genome and orange capsid proteins.

Of course the comic book-bright structures shown in the painting aren’t so simple and colorful in real, microscopic life. “These things are actually smaller than the wavelength of light, so they don’t really have a color,” Goodsell says. He chose his own color palette to highlight the function of each component — and to make them look beautiful.

Goodsell, who is an associate professor of molecular biology at the Scripps Research Institute as well a research professor at Rutgers State University, started combining his artistic and scientific skills years ago while doing post-doctoral work at Scripps. He had the idea then to draw a cell and all that is packed within it, but computer graphics available at the time were not up to the task. “So I just jumped in and drew it myself by hand. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

To see more of Goodsell’s paintings, check out the “Molecule of the Month” feature (Zika is the offering for May) at the RCSB Protein Data Bank, an archive of structural biology.

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Shoulder Patches Spark A Diplomatic Flap Between Turkey And The U.S.

Armed men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic forces as US special operations forces ride in the back of a pickup truck in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa on May 25, 2016.

Armed men in uniform identified by Syrian Democratic forces as US special operations forces ride in the back of a pickup truck in the village of Fatisah in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa on May 25, 2016. Delil Souleiman /AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Delil Souleiman /AFP/Getty Images

Shoulder patches are the subject of a diplomatic incident between the U.S. and Turkey. The flap highlights the complicated regional politics the U.S. is navigating in its offensive against Islamic State militants in Syria.

The central issue: the Kurdish YPG militia, which the U.S. views as a key ally against the Islamic State in Syria, has been branded a terrorist group by Turkey’s government.

Earlier this week, U.S.-backed forces pushed forward in an area north of Raqqa, the de facto IS capital in Syria, as we reported. The Syrian Democratic Forces are supported by U.S. military advisers on the ground, and the Kurdish YPG is the coalition’s most powerful component.

Shortly after, a photographer with AFP released images appearing to show U.S. military personnel wearing shoulder patches bearing the YPG insignia.

The photographer, Delil Souleiman, wrote in a blog post published by AFP that he came upon the group of U.S. military personnel by chance near the frontline, about 30 miles from Raqqa:

“They don’t prevent me from taking pictures. They don’t seem to think that a photographer here is something bizarre. Some have a patch of them American flag on their sleeves. Others have the patch of a Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Still others of a women’s unit within the YPG.”

The photos set off a barrage of fiery words from Turkish officials.

“Wearing an insignia of a terrorist organization by U.S. soldiers, who are our ally and are assertive about fighting against terrorism, is unacceptable,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, according to the Anadolu Agency.

“Our suggestion to them is that they should also wear Daesh, al-Nusra and Al-Qaeda insignias during their operations in other regions of Syria. They can also wear the Boko Haram insignia when they go to Africa,” he added.

Following Turkey’s criticism, coalition spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren said during a press briefing Friday that wearing the patches “was unauthorized and it was inappropriate and corrective action has been taken.” That fact has been “communicated to our allies,” he added.

But Warren explained that it is common practice for U.S. special forces to wear this kind of patch during military partnerships, even though they are unauthorized:

“[T]he special forces community has a long and proud history of wearing such patches when they are partnering with forces around the world, and you’ll see examples of that in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Latin America and all over the world where these special forces personnel train and conduct, you know, foreign internal defense type operations. This is something that they often do, and it’s an effort to, you know, just kind of connect with those that they’re training.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated criticism of the patches Saturday and accused the U.S. of not being “honest,” according to The Associated Press. He added: “Those who are our friends, those who are with us in NATO, should not and cannot send their soldiers to Syria with the sign of the YPG.”

As the Los Angeles Times explains, “Turkey maintains the YPG is no different from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Ankara and Washington regard as a terrorist organization.”

In a Friday press briefing, State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters that “our belief is that the YPG is not connected to the PKK.” However, he later said, “I can’t categorically say that there’s not any connections.” He added that the YPG is “taking the fight to Daesh in northern Syria and is a very effective fighting force.”

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