Words Unlocked 2019


Words Unlocked Update #9: Winning Poems!

Congratulations to all of the 2019 Words Unlocked Poets and Teachers! This update features this year's Prize-Winning Poems. Please click the image below. Drumroll, please!


*Be sure to scroll down for resources and weekly updates!*

Words Unlocked is a month-long initiative that includes a seven-day structured poetry curriculum for young people in confinement. Our practitioner-ready curricular materials, which include lessons à la carte, culminate with a nationwide competition and publishing venues for poetic works.

“Pain is important: how we evade it, how we succumb to it, how we deal with it, how we transcend it.” – Audre Lorde

This year's theme is transcendence. Transcendence is the existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level, beyond our circumstance. The power of the human spirit to transcend and be oneself in the face of things happening around and even to us is nothing short of magical. Through Words Unlocked we hope to encourage young people held in locked facilities to voice their truths about the ways their circumstances contribute to, yet do not solely define, who they are.

Far too many young people are locked up around the country. Through this initiative, we continue to ensure that their words are not.

Words Unlocked Update #8: The Distinguished Dozen!

Whew! The Distinguished Dozen are this year's collection of poems that have emerged through our volunteer review process and will soon be in the hands of our inaugural focus poet and reviewing artist, Jimmy Santiago Baca.

Congratulations teachers and poets! We'll be back in touch next week with an update on the contest winners.

Poem: This is My Life

Poet: Demetrius & Josiah

School: McLaughlin High School

Facility: McLaughlin Youth Center

State: Alaska

Teacher: Leslie Fleming

Poem: Transcendence

Poet: Ryan

Facility: Durango Juvenile Detention Center

State: Arizona

Teacher: Alex Lopez & Traci Ball

Poem: I'll be Me

Poet: Samantha

Facility: Golden Ridge Juvenile Hall

State: California

Teacher: Aiko Akers

Poem: IDK

Poet: Anthony

Facility: Pinellas Juvenile Detention Center

State: FL

Teacher: Derek Sanders

Poem: The Drug in Me

Poet: McKenzie

School: Juniper Hills School

Facility: Nampa

State: Idaho

Teacher: Alice Marlow

Poem: Warrior Built

Poet: Greggory

School: Juniper Hills

Facility: St. Anthony

State: Idaho

Teacher: Owen Hirschi

Poem: Mr. Farney's Class

Poet: Trinity

Facility: LaPorte Juvenile Correctional Facility

State: IN

Teacher: Janet Freeman

Poem: Transcend

Poet: Jeremy

School: North Carolina Learning Academy

Facility: Cumberland Juvenile Detention Center

State: NC

Teacher: Ruth Dee

Poem: Bad Liar

Poet: Patricia

School: Yvonne B. Miller High School

Facility: Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center

State: VA

Teacher: Leigh Barnett

Poem: I'm Special

Poet: M.M.

School: Vel R. Phillips School

Facility: Milwaukee County Juvenile Justice Center

State: Wisconsin

Teacher: Michael Riedl

Poem: Peeling a Husk

Poet: M.S.

School: Horizonte

Facility: Odyssey Adolescent

State: UT

Teacher: Anders Kvaal

Poem: Breaking My Mother's Addiction

Poet: D.A.C

School: Granite YES School

Facility: Salt Lake Valley Detention Center

State: UT

Teacher: Bonnie Shaw


ALERT: Words Unlocked 2019 Contest Update!

Our Round 2 volunteer reviewers are busy reading through this year's entries. We will announce the Top 10 poems on Monday, June 10th. Be on the look out!

From there, the Top 10 poems will move forward the the final round and will be under the gaze of reviewing artist and Words Unlocked inaugural focus poet, Jimmy Santiago Baca.


Words Unlocked Update #7: May 20, 2019

This update features the WU19 Poetry Contest review process, a teacher spotlight, and a way to praise your poets!

WU19 Poetry Contest: Review Round 1

Many thanks to all who exposed our young people living in confinement to the 2019 Words Unlocked curriculum. We received over 100 top poems moved forward from schoolwide competitions held inside locked facilities across the county, all exploring the WU19 theme of Transcendence!

All poems are currently in the hands of our Round 1 Volunteer Reviewers. We'll be back next week with another update on the review process. By then, we will have moved on to round two. From there, the top 10 poems will be in the hands of Words Unlocked Reviewing Artist, Jimmy Santiago Baca.

Teacher Spotlight: Leslie Fleming from Alaska!

Let's hear the experience straight from Leslie!

"McLaughlin High School in Anchorage, Alaska had an amazing Poetry Café last Friday, May 10th. We transformed our library into a café with food, coffee, music, and sharing of poetry.

I wasn’t sure how it was going to go when I kept hearing from students that they didn’t want to do their poem. I was pleasantly surprised as students went up to the microphone and things started moving along smoothly. Each one inspired the next resulting in 28 poems being presented.

The Poetry Cafe was more than I had imagined! After that we honored seniors by having everyone write a couplet on the black paper covered tables (with white pencils). Students moved on to another table and added another couplet. All were read aloud afterwards. The informal atmosphere created an experience where students felt as if they really were at a café for a couple hours. I was going to attach the program and then realized it had their first and last name, but have attached a photo that captures a very small window into the MYC Poetry Café.

Way to go, Leslie! Check out the image of the MYC Poetry Café! We love it...candlelit and all!!

Big picture

Praise Your Poets!

It's so exciting to hear that many of you are praising your poets during classroom celebrations, schoolwide award ceremonies, and poetry cafés. Click the image of the certificate to download a Word version, add your personal touch, print, and present to your poets for so bravely and so very humanly expressing their experience of transcendence.


Words Unlocked Update #6: Week of April 29, 2019

The WU19 submissions are rolling in! The portal will close today on Tuesday, April 30th at midnight! As of this morning, we have received submission from poets in 48 locked facilities across the country. Keep them coming!
Having trouble accessing the Google Doc or the platform is blocked within your school? No problem! Email us at WordsUnlocked@ceeas.org and we'll send you en editable Word document.

WU19 Submissions

The submissions are steadily coming through the WU19 Submission Portal! Wow!

Having trouble? Send us a quick email at WordsUnlocked@ceeas.org and we'll support you to ensure your poets voices are heard!

Poetry Café Highlights!

We are so excited about the shift to supporting local poetry cafés this year! Here are some highlights from the Words Unlocked 2019 Poetry Cafés happening across the country. We are currently smiling, nodding, and finger snapping. : )

Check out the pics below! (Want to share your journey with us? Reach out at to us today at WordsUnlocked@ceeas.org.

Teacher Spotlight: Jackie Munster from Missouri!

Here is what Jackie had to say!

"On Sunday, April 21st GRTC hosted our First Annual Poetry Night and it was a huge success!! As part of CEEAS Words Unlocked Initiative, our youth have been studying poetry during the month of April and had the opportunity to write their own poems that could be entered into a nationwide contest. I couldn’t be more proud of the effort that these boys put into their poetry! The event went over great and we had over 40 people in attendance. I was also very proud that even though some of our youth were very nervous to get up in front of the crowd to read their poems, they faced those fears and did a wonderful job!

For the contest, only 2 youth poems could be submitted per facility, so our staff in attendance voted and the winning poems were written by BJ S. and Hunter M. Their poems will be entered into the CEEAS National Contest!

I also wanted to thank everyone that made the event a success— Rick for being very supportive and allowing me to do the event! Patty for helping me get set up with the snacks and refreshments! Our CLC for giving us the funds for the snacks and refreshments. Staff that helped with supervision during the event and voting for the contest. Clarissa for taking pictures!

Again I cannot express how happy I am with how the event turned out! I can’t wait to do it again next year!!!!!!"

To that we respond smiling, nodding and finger snapping (of course). You go, Jackie!

Below are some addition pics of GRTC's poetry night for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!


Words Unlocked Update #5: Week of April 21, 2019

This update features a quick reminder that the WU19 Submission Portal will remain open through April 30th, a teacher spotlight, and a Poetry Break.

WU19 Submission Portal is Open!

The WU19 poems are flowing in! So far, we've received poems from Florida, Maryland, Utah and Wisconsin. Looking forward to receiving more! Please remember to consult to the WU19 Contest Guidelines and only submit your top poems after holding your local competition.

If you have any trouble downloading the WU19 Submission Template or uploading to the WU19 Submission Portal, please email us at WordsUnlocked@ceeas.org and we'll get on it.

Teacher Spotlight!

This week our spotlight is on Jenny, a teacher at Hogan Street Regional Youth Center in Missouri. Here's what Jenny had to say about her Words Unlocked journey:

"This week we are incorporating the new skills we have learned into writing a poem to our victims. The students have learnt about their direct and indirect victims and how their actions affected someone else."

Jenny, thank you for empowering your students to embrace our collective responsibility to one another.

Poetry Break!

Take a seat, breathe, and listen with an open heart to former Words Unlocked focus poet, Donté Clark as he performs his poem, "Somewhere in America." It is heavy listening. Are you ready–or is being ready a myth we need to stop relying on?


Words Unlocked Update #4: Week of April 15, 2019

This update features the WU19 Contest Submission Template, the WU19 Submission Portal, and a poetry break!

WU19 Poetry Submission Template

Please download the WU19 Poetry Submission Template. This is a Word document and we ask that all submissions be uploaded as Word documents, using this template. PDFs will not be accepted.

Why? If one of your poets is featured on our CEEAS website, it makes life easier when working with a Word document.

*Note that contest rules have changed as we move into our 6th year or Words Unlocked! Please host local Poetry Cafés or Poetry Slams! From there, send us your winning poem.

Thanks in advance! : )

WU19 Submission Portal is open!

The WU19 Submission Portal is live and ready to receive submissions! You can simply complete your submission directly through the WU19 Contest Webpage or click HERE to open the portal in a new window.

Poetry Break!

Sit back and listen to teacher and author, Clint Smith. The poem he is sharing, "The Danger of Silence."

  • In what ways might the danger of silence show up in our spaces?
  • In what ways can we empower our students to embrace their voices and use words to transcend their circumstance?




Words Unlocked Update #3: Week of April 8, 2019

This update highlights how to create a Poetry Café for your schoolwide contest, the WU19 "Tell It!" platform, and a WU19 Teacher Spotlight from Missouri that includes a poetry break!

Poetry Café

For Words Unlocked 2019, we are asking you to hold a poetry contest locally at each of your schools! From there, you will submit your top poem(s) to the national Words Unlocked 2019 poetry contest.

How might you select your school's entries? Have a poetry café! A Poetry Café allows your poets to share the work they have done, not only with their classmates and teachers, but also with the special guests that they invite. These invited guests can be asked to join in the fun by reading their own favorite poems aloud. During the Poetry Café the scholar-poets can read aloud some of the poems they created or read one favorite poem by an author that they studied during reading workshop.

Check out the Words Unlocked Poetry Café page for guidance!

Tell It!

How is Words Unlocked 2019 taking shape for you? Do the young people you work with have any favorite poems? Have you had any surprises? Click here or on the image below to share your story! You just might be featured in our next "Teacher Spotlight."

Teacher Spotlight & Poetry Break!

This week our spotlight is on Jackie Munster, a teacher at Gentry Residential Treatment Center in Cabool, Missouri.

Jackie is a shining example of tailoring Words Unlocked to the young people she serves. Check out this poetry break, entitled Ditch Diggers, by Eric Borden - The Pasture Poet. Check out his website and click the image below to watch the poem and hear Eric share the inspiration behind his creation.

What local poet resonates with the young people you serve? How might you introduce that poet's work to ignite your students' creativity?


Words Unlocked Update #2: Wee of April 1, 2019

National poetry month has officially begun...and so has Words Unlocked! This update features our official WU19 Kickoff Video and highlights the WU19 instructional materials.

WU19 Kickoff Video

Get students thinking about the Words Unlocked 2019 theme of transcendence as they watch this year's kickoff video.

Who's ready!?

If you are planning to begin Words Unlocked this week, that's perfect! The basic Words Unlocked 7-day semi-structured curriculum, à la carte lesson plans, and contest guidelines for 2019 are ready and waiting to be tailored to for your students. Keep checking back for additional resources!


Words Unlocked Update #1: Week of March 25, 2019

Welcome back! This update features the official Words Unlocked 2019 Contest Poster, WU19 Contest Guidelines, our "Oops!" page, and our WU19 Calendar and Lesson Plans.


Words Unlocked is BACK for 2019!

“Pain is important: how we evade it, how we succumb to it, how we deal with it, how we transcend it.”

~ Audre Lorde

In the spirit of National Poetry Month and in a continuing effort to encourage literary exploration by young people held in locked facilities, we are proud to announce that we will again be running our month-long poetry writing initiative and competition, Words Unlocked!

This year's theme is transcendence. Transcendence is the existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level, beyond our circumstance. The power of the human spirit to transcend and be oneself in the face of things happening around and even to us is nothing short of magical. Through Words Unlocked we hope to encourage young people held in locked facilities to voice their truths about the ways their circumstances contribute to yet do not solely define who they are.

All materials for the initiative are available at our Words Unlocked website, which will house a robust set of tools available for public use: daily lesson plans and teacher-ready classroom materials. Check back often, as we will continue adding material! Please share the website with anyone who might help get these materials to teachers working with incarcerated youth. We hope to have thousands of students kicking off Words Unlocked 2019 on Monday, April 1st.

Far too many young people are locked up around the country. Through this initiative, we continue to ensure that their words are not.

WU19 Updates!

We want to keep you informed, so don't be left out! Please click the link to receive our Words Unlocked 2019 Updates!

The Words Unlocked 2018 theme was multiformity! Click HERE and take some time to read and listen to what young people held in locked facilities had to say through their poetry and podcasting about the complexity of their human being.

words unlocked resist

shouting above silent whirlds


The Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings

We help schools inside locked facilities implement transformational, student-focused practices, designed to significantly improve the life chances of the students they serve.