CEEAS | Words Unlocked
page-template-default,page,page-id-16008,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,qode-theme-ver-9.2,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-4.12.1,vc_responsive

Words Unlocked

Poetry Winners 2017
Words Unlocked Anthologies
The Podcast Project

Words Unlocked

We believe it is critical that students in secure settings have the chance to explore literature and unlock their creative talents in writing. So, since 2013, each April we have run Words Unlocked, a month-long poetry initiative for students held in locked juvenile justice and adult facilities. Since its inception, over 5,000 students from around the country have participated in Words Unlocked.  


Student poetry has been shared and acknowledged widely.  In 2014, Aaron Martin, the winning poet from Words Unlocked, was featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition.  Click here to listen to the story.  In 2016, we collaborated to help students and staff produce podcasts featuring student poems and interviews at two sites.  Click here to visit the Words Unlocked Podcast page.  That same year, a number of student poems were featured on NPR’s All Things Considered with Michel Martin.


Over the years, a number of terrific poets have volunteered with us, serving as reviewing artists, sharing inspirational words, and offering advice and support to students. These include Jimmy Santiago Baca, Dwayne Betts, Josh Lefkowitz, Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa, Victoria Sammartino, and Kosal Khiev, among others.


Each year, we develop Words Unlocked around a theme.  Themes have included Boundaries, Transformation, Authenticity, and Interconnectedness.




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 this year’s initiative are available at our Words Unlocked website, which houses a robust set of tools available for public use: daily lesson plans and teacher-ready classroom materials.

If you are interested in learning more about Words Unlocked, please email Christy Sampson-Kelly.


Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)


Your Message