Daily Practice 2017 07 17: Hearing Voices Underground


Continuing to share items from The BeZine, our sister publicationToday's sharing is from Chris Hoke. I met Chris at a gathering of detention volunteers I called a couple years ago. I felt like we should get everyone in the room to talk to each other and see if we could help one another. Chris came to Seattle University from the Skagit Valley because where he lives, there is no community of detention volunteers. Not in the same way we have them in King County. Ever since then, we have been working parallel.

We are now moving into working with each other. We are creating a partnership with the UMC, the RCC, and the DOC. That is the United Methodist Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Department of Corrections. In this partnership, we will be teaching churches how to receive those who have been convicted into their midst. And we will be teaching the DOC how to shepherd church members into relationship with those who are incarcerated: One Parish, One Prisoner. It all starts with letter writing. It is exciting! You never know what will come out of a meeting. 

Hearing Voices Underground
by Chris Hoke

I am Chris Hoke. I am a Gang Pastor, Jail Chaplain and Writer. This is a story I just wrote for our brother organization, Underground Writing, directed by my friend and colleague Matt Malyon. I am honored to be a monthly teaching-writer with Underground Writing in juvenile detention.

Hearing Voices Underground
We read a poem by Li Young-Lee, Little Father, and in response a fifteen-year-old boy in Juvenile Detention wrote about the time his dad ran over him with a car.

One time when I was like 6 or 7
I got on my bike and finally rode it successfully
and I was riding it around my yard,
but I don’t think my dad liked that too much
because he decided to run me over
because he was drunk

my uncle was in the passenger side
finishing his beer
when my dad was steering towards me
and before I knew it
I was under the front of the car

It took him a second to realize
what happened but he said that
he told me to get out of the way
at least my bike was OK

This was last summer. It stuck with me.

Last month this same teenager walked into our Underground Writing group in the classroom. (Over time, you see youth return, again and again, to this place.) I put him on the spot by saying I still remembered something he wrote a year before.

“Yeah?” Yeah, I told him. Did he remember what it was? He did; he summarized the memory.

I asked him—for the audience of five other teenagers sitting around the two round tables in their bright orange sweats, listening—why he thought I remembered it. He shook his head, eyebrows up, honestly not sure why that lousy memory would stick with the writing teacher. “Cuz it’s f–, uh, messed up?”

Yeah, I said. But more basic than that: he wrote it down, I said, plain, simple, no flowery words. The event spoke for itself. I hoped this would dispel other students’ fears of writing being about getting fancy with our words.

“And because you dared to read it out loud. You shared it with us. Otherwise I wouldn’t have heard that story, or your powerful voice.”

His face was blank. So what.

These youth are used to their voices not being heard, or wanted. They are accustomed to not being seen.

We were not discussing metaphor that day.  But I am now.

Unless we the adults behind the wheel of our communities hear these stories, hear the voices of young lives being caught under the gears of our courts and legal systems, we won’t know we need to hit the breaks.  Or sober up.

In the last year, four of the boys—all between fourteen to sixteen years old—in our Juvenile Detention workshops have been charged as adults in the courtroom across the street. They each face over a decade in adult prison. None of them are white.

I can imagine where they are headed. Because, as an adult prison and gang chaplain, I’ve also been writing letters to a twenty-one-year-old in a solitary confinement cell across Washington State.

He was already one of the highest-violent inmates in the system when I met him. He’d stabbed multiple guards in the face, neck, when they entered his cell. The homies called him Lil’ Saint. Saint was sentenced, age fifteen, as an adult.

But in our letters, I was curious about him. He told me horror stories. Being whipped as a child, locked in the bathroom for days. Through writing, he made the connection between his childhood treatment and current “animal” rage, lashing out, at being caged.

He used his pen, his voice. He was heard, and he had compassion on himself. He’s now reading Steinbeck, ancient Roman histories, and has earned his way off of high security levels.

He never wrote a poem. But his writing I’m most proud of was the letter he wrote our county prosecutor, at our gentle request. He told his story on behalf of a kid in Juvenile Detention he’s never met. He raised his voice so that the man behind the legal wheel in our county might, hopefully, hit the breaks—and see a child about to be crushed underground.

. . . and before I knew it
I was under the front of the car

It took him a second to realize
what happened but he said that
he told me to get out of the way
at least my bike was OK

The prosecutor still has not lowered the charges. I’m not even sure if he read Saint’s prison-envelope letter.  It’s likely he’ll never hear Saint’s voice.

Do we?

May we have ears to hear–the word from above and from below.

Chris Hoke is the CoDirector of Underground Ministries and the author of  WANTED: A Spiritual Pursuit Through Jail, Among Outlaws, and Across Borders.

How will you listen today?




Let my heart rise up to meet mercy, my voice to meet compassion, my hands to meet action.

BIBOLOVE: Breath In, Breath Out--shhh


Sacred Text

Jewish Daily Reading: Daily Study from Chabad

Christian Daily Reading: Revised Common Lectionary Daily Reading

Muslim Daily Reading: Daily Verse from The Only Quran

Buddhist Daily Reading: Daily Zen

Please bring your own sacred readings to the daily pattern. If there is something else you'd like to see, please share!


"It is clear that the way to heal society of its violence . . . and lack of love is to replace the pyramid of domination with the circle of equality and respect," Manitonquat, Elder of the Assonet Band of the Wampanoag Nation


Weekly prayer focus comes from the World Council of Churches prayer cycle. We know the world needs to be surrounded with prayer and positive thought. This allows us to work through the world country by country. We focus on one set of countries per week with the same prayer, lifting them up. I encourage you to fill this in however you see it.

Let us pray.

We know that we fail to live up to being makers of peace. Let us bring in rather than push out, be invitational rather than confrontational--seeing signs of life while decrying the desecration of hope.

For the countries of Djibouti and Somalia. For the countries of ________________________

For signs of hope and peace, we pray for ________________________

For the oppressed and weary, we pray for ________________________

For those we love, those we hate and those we are indifferent to
For the transformation from ME to WE

Let peace prevail on earth.
So may it be.

Lord’s Prayer:

Translation by Neil Douglas Klotz, Sufi

O Birther! Creator of the Cosmos,
Focus your light within us— make it useful:
Create your reign of unity now-
Your one desire then acts with ours,
as in all light, so in all forms.
Grant what we need each day in bread and insight.
Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt.
Don’t let surface things delude us,
But free us from what holds us back.
From you is born all ruling will,
the power and the life to do,
the song that beautifies all,
from age to age it renews.
Truly— power to these statements—
may they be the ground from which all
my actions grow: Amen.

May Peace Prevail on Earth. Amen. So mote it be.


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Categories: daily-practice daily-prayer meditation

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