You are 13, 15, 16 and at risk,
of failing, of flunking,
of dropping out forever.

You are at risk
each time you do meth,
of losing your free will,
of losing your mind.

You are at risk,
of living in the streets,
under a bridge,
of freezing to death.

You are at risk,
of getting sick,
of being raped,
of losing yourself.

You are at risk
of going hungry,
of getting arrested,
of disappearing into the system.

You are at risk
of being bullied, of being sold,
of being killed by gangsta gun violence
in the hood.

I am at risk,
of caring too much,
of getting involved,
of giving advice when it isn’t wanted.

I am at risk,
of offering hope, when it isn’t mine to give,
of seeing the person you are, of connecting,
of closing the gap between us.

I am at risk,
of forgetting myself as I laugh with you
because you are smart and funny,
of cracking open my heart.

I am at risk
of forever changing
because I know you, because I sat with you,
because I heard you.
I can never go back.

I am at risk
of understanding the injustice,
of seeing the parallel universe where you live,
right next to me,
of having to do something about it.

I felt something touch me inside here, you said,
putting a finger on your chest.
I believe in you, I said. I’ll see you next week.

© Lisa Ashley, MDiv

2 thoughts on “At-risk Youth

    1. Thank you. It is my direct experience as a chaplain with incarcerated youth. They have taught me so much and shown me their beauty and intelligence. My life has been changed forever. I hope I can do them honor whenever I write about them or try to share their stories.

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