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‘Sound of Us’ tells stories Northeast Ohioans want to tell — in their own voices.

Was his mother ashamed he was in prison? Poetry helped him find the answer

Wall Street Wes Robinson stands and chats while being interviewed for Ideastream Public Media's Sound of Us series.
J. Nungesser
Ideastream Public Media
Wall Street Wes Robinson teaches poetry to children after he began writing his own poems while in prison.

Cuyahoga County accounts for a larger proportion of people in prison than any other county in Ohio. This story is part of a “Sound of Us” series in which formerly incarcerated poet and speaker Cardell Belfoure interviews Clevelanders who’ve been to prison themselves and are now working as activists. The series was produced in partnership with the nonprofit Building Freedom Ohio.

I met Wall Street Wes Robinson about two years ago, not long after I was released from prison.

He said he acquired that title because he invests in people for a living. Because he's been to prison, he said, he's dedicated his life to trying to help people avoid that same road.

He did 10 ½ years behind bars, but he’s been free since 2016. He’s 38 now.

Robinson works with communities in a lot of ways. For example, he works with kids to come up with their own poems, like at a summer camp, where he taught kids to become comfortable with rhyming through chanting phrases.

"Kids don't care about what you know 'til they know you care. Most kids just get talked to and nobody really listen. So through poetry, I use that platform to get a kid to say what the problem is," Robinson said.

Robinson said growing up in the hood with young parents was hard. He lacked structure and was surrounded by negative influences.

"So all of my natural qualities, I just used those things for wrong. But for real, in my eyes, it was for survival. If I robbed your house, it was because I was really hungry," he said.

He started writing poetry while he was incarcerated.

"I'm convinced that poetry is a natural way for a human being to ground theyself outside of self-medicating, outside of destructing," Robinson said.

A Mother's Day message

One of his favorite pieces he wrote in prison is called “Penitentiary Pain.” He wrote it on Mother's Day as he wondered if his mother was ashamed of him for his incarceration.

Here's an excerpt:

There is nothing fine about being confined.
Prison is painful.
I wonder if my mother look at me shameful
from her angle
because her angel
has her heart tangled…

Robinson was able to send his mother a video of himself reading the poem while he was still incarcerated.

"Her words to me were words that eventually changed my life," he recalled. "She told me she wasn't ashamed of me because I was in prison, but her only problem with me was that I put all my energy into the wrong things. And then I started spending my energy creating programs and trying to grow as an individual."

Robinson said he believes people like him can be an asset to society because of their experiences. They've had the opportunity to sit down and gain an intellectual understanding of their individuality, he said.

"Like, we thirsty to help our community," he added.

For Robinson, every community is his community. On a recent vacation to Florida for his birthday, he even found some time to read poetry and talk to people on the beach, giving his time to whomever could use it.

Cardell “Mighty Roc” Belfoure is a poet, spoken-word performer and roofing apprentice based in Cleveland. His business, Words Are Power LLC, teaches people to express their experiences through writing. He previously taught poetry while incarcerated at Grafton Correctional Institution and participated in Ideastream Public Media’s original Poetic Reentry series.