For several years, I have been a contributor the COMPAS organization, whose mission has been putting creativity into the hands of Minnesotans of all ages and community members for nearly 50 years. The organization notes that “Creativity isn’t a matter of the haves and have-nots. It isn’t the privilege of the young or a luxury of the old. It is an essential piece of humanity. Through art, we aim to empower everyone to change their lives and change the world.”

This includes the women who participate in the Women’s Writing Program, the COMPAS partnership with the Washington County Jail. These women, jailed for nonviolent offenses, learn to write poetry with the guidance of COMPAS teaching artist, Diego Vázquez, Jr. Within their words are expressions of pain, courage, regret, love and hope. COMPAS also partners with jail writing programs in Anoka, Ramsey and Sherburne counties.

A noteworthy aspect of the program is the stunning anthology of writing published by each class. The women who author these works are empowered by their creativity, self-esteem, humanity, redemption and pride. Their telling of their personal stories is a momentous accomplishment.

After being sidelined by the pandemic, the Women’s Writing Program is finally back. In celebration of Poetry Month this April, here are four poems from the three most recent anthologies written at the Washington County Jail.

You’re a Disease & I’ll Quit If I Please

By Britteny Miller

My addiction to you
stronger than tacky glue
inhaling every ounce of your being
unaware of the evil lurking within
each style of torment
every scar, every hit, every wound
sickly drew me closer to you
deeper the depth
your claws dig into my flesh
harder I fell for the monster you’ve been
awoken one day
feeling brave, feeling tough
listening to my soul pleading
I’ve had enough


By Alicia Standish


Excuse Me

By Xiaojing Ke

back in Houston
a white lady complained

“well, exactly,
I think everyone
should‘a go back
where they came from”

well, excuse me,
Texas should’a go back to Mexico
you should’a jump on a ship back to Europe.

Incarcerated Women

By Desiree Christine Nelson

Does the woman before me struggle with her identity
does she have kids does she have a mother
use drugs a junkie
does she have a good sense of humor,
always screaming Fuck the Feds
does she cry all the time
play rummy or tens
stay to herself and not talk
angry, anxious to fight
or is she passive, too nice
what crime did she commit?
simply in for stealing
or for killing
Is she a drug addict who went too far with probation
was she on television for sex trafficking across state lines
all the women before have been inside for different reasons
feelings, no matter what was done, let’s respect each other
live together peacefully maybe beyond this jail space

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