A poem written by a teenager to the mother she never knew

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The 2009 HELLO art show
HELLO is an awkward acronym constructed on behalf of a simple idea—giving kids on the streets positive things to do. Homeless Experts Living Life's Obstacles brings kids together every Tuesday at the Broadway Youth Center, 3179 N. Broadway. They contact legislators, asking them to support programs that help people such as themselves; they make art. They spend weeks planning the annual fall art show.

HELLO is sponsored by the Night Ministry, the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, and the Lakeview Action Coalition. The Broadway Youth Center, operated by the Howard Brown Health Center and various partners, houses a variety of medical and social services and support groups.

Three years ago Mayor Daley dropped by the HELLO art show and spent a lot more time there than anyone expected him to. As a result, some city money was freed up from the $1.1 billion raised by the new parking meter contract to help pay for a pilot project, the Crib—it's an overnight shelter in the basement of the Lakeview Lutheran Church on Addison just east of Wrigley Field. The Crib is still open, October through April—there's never been enough money to keep it going year-round.

Now the future of HELLO is in doubt. The Broadway Youth Center has lost its lease, and HELLO has nowhere to meet beyond December 4. A spokesperson for the Night Ministry tells me it's not clear that a suitable new location will be found.

My wife, Betsy Nore, volunteers at the Crib, and she attended the November 19 art show, at Lakeview's Second Unitarian Church, that might turn out to be HELLO's last. She came away talking about the poetry she'd heard recited. In particular, there was the following poem by Isis Cook. Cook is 18. Raised by an aunt in the south suburbs, Cook was homeless in Chicago this past summer before she left town. She's now living with an uncle and working in Fort Worth. She never knew her mother, who she's been told was a prostitute and drug addict who lived on the streets, but her poem "My World Inside the Womb" is about her.

My world inside the womb
Was like a living
A tormented and disappointing story
Since day one
I was conceived
The life inside the womb
Was a suffocating experience
It was fogged up
I could see nothing
But Satan coming for me
I could not taste anything
But different types of drugs
Flowing through my bloodstream
Slowly taking me away from my soul
I could not hear a thing
But the moans of my mother
And the heartbeat weakening with every beat
I could not feel a thing
But different types of men entering my mother
I no longer could find who my father was
I could not track his voice
But there is something no one knew about her
Quintella Mitchum
You call her a whore
A slut, a drug addict
A prostitute
And all these different types of names
No one ever took the time to see
What caused her downfall
Looking for love in the worst scenarios
You never knew
She was really screaming for help
And every man who entered her
Between every moan and groan she made
She was never completely satisfied with herself
No one was there to point her to the right path
That was the only path she knew
What she grew up with
It's not her fault
No one ever saw what was behind the prostitute
They saw what was on the surface
I felt the pain
The fear
And the empty whole in her heart
In her voice
She needs someone
But why hasn't she met that person
Everyone just used her
She was running to her own grave
A race to save her life
I just hope Lord
That it's not too late for her breakthrough
Because my world inside the womb was the hell she faced
The torment she dealt with everyday
I knew she was not happy
She wanted more than what she had
But she could not find that path
I cry for her every now and then
Because I still feel connected to to her in a way
I can hear her in my dreams
I can see how beautiful she is
Behind what she looks like on the surface
I can see her reaching for something or someone
Even though I am no longer in her womb
I still feel I am there when I think of her
My world inside the womb
Is nothing you could ever experience on earth
When you literally feel all of her pain
The pain no one sees
The pain I have once before experienced . . .

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