Jericho Circle Project

Prison Poetry Program

Poetry is a language that speaks directly to the heart. Part of the work of JCP is to bring greater levels of feeling and authentic experience into prisons. Poems are often read in our prison circles as an invitation to go deeper and touch feelings. Spoken poetry is one of the most effective ways for men to access what is at their core.

Do you have a favorite poem that you would like to be read to men inside?

Send us your favorites and we will read them to men who are seeking wisdom and inspiration on their journey. Poetry may be sent to us for sharing at the address below.


Here is poetry inspired by the work we do and the experiences of entering and leaving the prison.

Herring Run

They come in a tin can, neatly packed.
To open the can, pry the key from the underside,
fit the metal tab into the slot and roll it up.
How quietly they sleep inside that can, waiting for spring to stir them back to life.

The blue door grinds along its track.
Shoes off, pockets out, hand stamped, book signed;
arms to my sides, I rotate in all directions,
passing silently through the archway to the other side.

Inmates wave through windows when they see me,
I look for the key in their eyes.
The tide is strong today but they
scurry down the hall and through the locks to greet me.

The scent of spring fills our lungs.
We thrash and leap through breakers to the sea.
A secret current carries us beyond the walls.
Boys frolic in the surf, searching for broken treasures on the shore.

But now it is time: They line up neatly, side-by-side.
To close the can you need to find the key,
fit the metal into the slot and roll it down.
How quietly they sleep inside that can, waiting for spring to stir them back to life.

Steve Spitzer

Prison II

Dead latch hums, disengages,
Steel door growls against its track.
Drives shut, pawl clicks in.

Badges, heavy belt, radio,
Pendulous keys, chain, clipboard,
Crew cut, scrubbed skin,
Watchful eyes, straight back, taut arms.

Footfalls echo, spotless vinyl,
Bright lit glare,
Blank walls, hard edges,
Bars, gate, thick glass.

Scrub grass,
High fence, straight lines,
Concrete, steel,
Gray light, cold wind.

High cameras,
Huddled men, hushed voices,
Uniforms, empty hands,

Standing, waiting, bare halls,
Locked in, locked out.
“ Attention on the compound…”
Rules, numbers, repetition.

Black fear, stoop shouldered
Red anger, black veiled
White reality, open faced
Orange-bright courage, golden hope.

Gift for my soul, this
Wheeled gate rolls open
Invites me to its

Vern Ludwig