Poetry doubles as therapy

CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle Nico Barela, of Las Vegas, N.M., says “my poems are my life story.”

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

On paper and off, Nico Barela, 17, can break your heart.

“Have you ever lived my life? Spent one minute in my shoes? If you haven’t, then tell me why you judge me as you do,” reads a stanza from a poem he wrote recently.

The teenager, of Las Vegas, N.M., uses poetry as therapy.

He is a resident of Pathway House, a Clovis treatment center for boys ages 12-18 who are involved in the legal system or wards of Children, Youth and Families Department.

His entanglement in the legal system began the night he saw his cousin shot and killed, but his substance abuse had already taken root.
Two years ago, Barela said his cousin, Adrian Urioste, was shot accidentally by a friend at a party in Las Vegas.

“He (Urioste) was like my brother,” Barela said.

The people at that party were underage. When Urioste was shot, they all ran away, Barela said. Except Barela, who said he threw away the drugs in the house and pressed a rag over his cousin’s wound to stop the bleeding.

“I thought I was dreaming,” Barela said.

Police charged Barela with tampering with evidence and resisting arrest, he said. He then violated the terms of his probation and was sentenced to Pathway House. He returned to the treatment center four months ago after violating his probation again.

“I kept making bad choices,” he said.

This time Barela is ready to change, according to the owner of Pathway House, Gene Lovato.

“I think he realizes last time he didn’t put in the effort he needed to,” Lovato said.

No more than 16 boys can be housed at Pathway House at one time. Currently, about 14 boys from across the state are housed there.
The average length of stay is 90 days, Lovato said.

Writing assignments are part of the Pathway treatment program, Lovato said.

Some Pathway residents, he said, prefer to write about their feelings instead of discussing them in group or family therapy sessions. They are given writing prompts, but they are allowed to choose their own writing format.

Barela chose poetry. He wrote his first poem while at a treatment facility in Santa Fe, he said. And the words just kept coming.

“My poems are my life story. I write some of it down, what I think of the world … what I’ve done in the past,” Barela said.

Finding a release for his emotions has helped Barela, according to Lovato.

“(Barela’s) a very positive young man who’s made some mistakes,” Lovato said. “He’s released a lot of that anger and pain he had through (poems).”

Barela should be released from Pathway House this Sunday. He said he plans to stay away from drugs, obtain his G.E.D. and attend college.

“Tomorrow’s a brand-new day,” he wrote in another of his poems, “and I won’t be left behind.”