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

Poetic Reentry: Cleveland Heights Man Uses Verse To Free His Mind

Da'Jon Carouthers sits on the front porch of his house in Cleveland Heights.
Margaret Cavalier
Ideastream Public Media
Da'Jon Carouthers, 26, said writing provided a mental release that supported him in his transition to life on the outside.

For Da'Jon Carouthers, the biggest contrast between free life and incarcerated life is the noise.

"It's never really quiet," Carouthers said. "Even at night when you're sleeping, you've got two people to your right, two people to your left — you have no space."

He began writing poetry and fiction as a way of creating that space for himself.

"Sometimes I'd go to the library and I'd put my headphones on," he remembered. "The next thing you know, I look up and it's three hours later and I wrote a whole chapter and imagined the next three chapters."

Writing also helped him imagine a different life, he said, helping keep his mind focused on life outside prison bars. He eventually applied for, and was granted, early release through the Cuyahoga County Reentry Court.

In exchange for completing training and substance abuse rehab programs, he shaved more than a year off his original four-year sentence. He checks in with his parole officer every two weeks.

He now works a manufacturing job at a plant that makes humidifiers, and moonlights as a personal fitness trainer.

Carouthers published his first novel, "The Cross You Bear," shortly after his release. He wrote the first draft — all long-hand — while incarcerated.

He also continues to write poetry. His most recent piece was about his mother, who died in January.

"It's still therapeutic for me," he said.

"Pencil or Pen," by Da'Jon Carouthers

A pencil, of course.

I have and I will

erase bad habits and

traits that I've become

accustomed to. And by

me being a pencil and

not a pen, I can start

fresh at things and you'll

never know of the things

I've erased unless I tell

you. I guess you can say

I have a good eraser. Just writing this,

I've erased three times. I sometimes tend to

start things without putting

much thought into it, so I

have to start over.

Thank god for erasers. To

sum it all up,

pencils are temporary and

pens are permanent. And

everyone deserves a second chance.

This story is part of a series called Poetic Reentry, featuring the voices of formerly incarcerated men reading poetry.

Justin Glanville is the deputy editor of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.