Hidden Within the 13th


One word killed the Eric Garners and George Floyds of America.
One word deprived them of life and happiness.
One word hinders African Americans from the sweet joy of liberty.
One word denies us our equality.
One word allows injustices to go unchecked.
One word permits the violation of our rights.
One word created mass incarceration.
One word killed the Sandra Blands and Breonna Taylors of America.
One word will keep black lives inferior.
One word.
The word… “except.” 

Amendment XIII 
Slavery Abolished 
[Proposed by Congress Jan. 31 1865, ratified Dec. 6 1865]

Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

“I will never forget what a great shock this was to me, here, for the first time, I was made aware of the existence of a race problem.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1929-1968


  1. Tatiyana C on March 22, 2021 at 4:40 PM

    Great poem KW! I was unaware on how big the word “except” meant in the 13th amendment until today. You opened my eyes to a valid point that I was unfamiliar with. Keep up the good work, Im looking forward to seeing more of your poems in the future.

  2. jaime navarro on March 23, 2021 at 7:01 PM

    so powerful, more people need to read this!

  3. Jodie Young on March 23, 2021 at 7:58 PM

    great work

  4. Joe Fargo IV on March 25, 2021 at 9:55 PM

    Dear KW,

    your use of repetition is incredibly powerful in both keeping readers engaged and driving home the final point. I absolutely loved the addition and incorporation of the 13th Amendment into your poem. Thank you for sharing this, and I hope you are well.

    – Joe

  5. Natalie Cairo on March 27, 2021 at 2:49 PM

    I remember in history class, my teacher was going over the 13th Amendment. She always use to say the word “except” was America’s biggest loophole. I’m glad that you wrote your poem on this. It is insane how much this country gets away with due to that word. I am a white girl from Chicago who will never understand what it is like to be black and living in this country. However, through this poem I felt the pain and hurt of a system that has failed its people. I hope you are doing okay and staying safe. This is a great poem and it is beautifully written.

  6. Torie Seagraves on March 30, 2021 at 9:24 AM

    KW, your use of repetition really hits home the idea of how the thirteenth amendment has become a form of mass incarceration for many african americans. Thank you for your powerful words!

  7. Ashlen on March 30, 2021 at 6:28 PM

    KW – I cannot begin to understand your struggles, but your words are incredibly powerful. This country needs voices like yours, and I really hope you keep writing. The single word “except” has so much weight and has brought tons of unnecessary suffering. You’ve really highlighted one of the biggest problems with our world, both in terms of policy and mentality. I hope you continue to use your words to break down every last “except.”

  8. Maddie on March 31, 2021 at 1:39 PM

    KW, the message you have conveyed in this poem is powerful and clear. I can sense the anger in your words, and it makes me angry, too. This loophole in the 13th amendment is absolutely something we should all be talking about more. It feels like another one of those outrageous historical “slip-ups” (although not truly a slip-up when it was written) that we accept simply because it’s in the constitution, but that word “except” and the phrase that follows should have never been written. Thank you for bringing attention to it.

  9. AYDEN JOZWIK on March 31, 2021 at 7:14 PM

    KW is completely correct in that true equality in this country can never be fully achieved so long as this clause remains in the 13th amendment exists. So long as it continues to exist without an amendment, there will always be a financial incentive to restrain and convict African Americans whether they were breaking the law or not. People like Sandra Bland tried to dedicate their lives towards improving race-relations in America along with the relationships between police officers and the communities they are supposed to be protecting. Reading this poem it really is hard to comprehend the amount of pain and suffering caused by this loophole, and that makes it all the more incredible how KW was able to illustrate its impact in only a few lines. So long as there is an incentive to incarcerate and a lack of consequences for killer police officers this country is doomed to repeat this tragic cycle for the foreseeable future.

  10. ken on April 2, 2021 at 1:02 PM

    This poem is very powerful and very well written! You made the readers feel the same thing that you were. All in all it was very good and emotional. Adding the 13th amendment at the end really sums it all together. Very good work! Never stop writing!!

  11. LD on April 3, 2021 at 11:54 AM

    Hi, KW,

    This is a beautiful poem. The repetition of “one word” is incredibly impactful, and it is a great lead up to the reveal of the word “except” at the end. Additionally, by adding the quote from the 13th amendment, you make a powerful point of connecting laws (even ones that seemingly help people of color) to the racism and prejudice that we still see against Black people.

  12. Cameron on April 5, 2021 at 11:02 AM


    Wow. It’s been a while since I’ve read the amendments, and I forgot that “except” was written in the 13th Amendment. It makes me sick to my stomach that people go to great lengths to keep inequality alive in America. Your poem does a great job of reminding us of the work that we must do to get that one word out of the constitution. Thank you for writing this.


  13. Rachel Smith on April 5, 2021 at 5:24 PM

    KW, this piece is so simple yet so powerful! The repetition of “one word” is so powerful leading up to “expect” and leaves the reader on the edge of their seat waiting to see what you have to say. People often forget the power of words and in this case you really shined light on how “one word” can impact the lives of so many people. This was such a powerful piece, keep writing!!

  14. Brittani Forman on April 7, 2021 at 3:00 PM

    I LOVE your poem!! This is one of the best I’ve read. I’ve always thought the 13 Amendment never really ended slavery, instead it allowed it to evolve into something that was acceptable for the time. Nice poem

  15. Olivia on April 7, 2021 at 10:33 PM

    WOW. That is really all I can say after reading this poem. I just recently attended a lecture at the University of South Alabama about this very subject and was blown away by it. I had never known that this loophole existed in the 13th Amendment, but everything make so much more sense now that I know that. I can never understand your pain or your anger, but I am so glad that you are strong enough to voice it. People with messages as strong as yours make history and I hope that you do one day. Again, thank you so much for sharing and using your powerful poem to educate others.

  16. Julia Rinaldi on April 8, 2021 at 8:40 PM


    I am truly blown away with the words you’ve put together and how well you portrayed your frustration with the thirteenth amendment. Equality in this country will never come, and I completely agree with you on that. Those unfair, racially discriminatory people have dug the country so far down in injustices and unfairness, that it is near impossible to come out of. Your words, in only a few sentences, spoke volumes. I appreciate you sharing with everyone here. Thank you, keep writing.


  17. Anna on April 14, 2021 at 12:03 PM

    The message your poem has is very clear and brought attention to a word I did not remember was in this amendment. This needs attention drawn to it in order to initiate change and you are making that impact through your poetry. It is showing people the racism that is buried in the roots of America. A long road of change is ahead. Thank you for sharing your work. Keep up the good work.

  18. Kaitland Johnson on April 18, 2021 at 11:41 PM

    KW, this is amazing. Thank you for analyzing the work of MLK and applying to to the current awful events unfolding in society. I hope that people take this into consideration and a change will happen. Thank you for using your voice in such a beautiful outlet.

  19. Alexa Ruperti on April 19, 2021 at 9:18 PM

    The message of your poem is very powerful and very well conveyed. You draw the reader to investigate more into inequality and how we can be more aware of the struggles that millions of Americans face daily.

  20. Miriam on April 20, 2021 at 8:04 PM

    Hi KW,

    I loved that your poem demonstrates that one word can have a long lasting effect, we may like to think of documents/amendments like these as documents from long ago, yet you highlight that word Except is still relevant in the lives of many today. The world has so many possibilities, but the word “Except” has reminded us that not everyone can experience those possibilities and the freedom that comes with those possibilities. “Except” keeps doors shut, enforces separation but there is hope that one day the word “Except” will no longer hold the ties that bind us down and we too shall experience the freedom and possibilities the world has to offer.

  21. Mary Hopkins on April 21, 2021 at 11:01 AM

    The power of a word – so important for all to hear.

  22. Nicole Nowicki on April 23, 2021 at 4:14 PM

    KW, I hope this letter reaches you well. The format of your poem was extremely powerful, and it made the reader eager to get to the end to learn what that one word was. By including the 13th amendment at the bottom without explaining the connection, the delivery was made even more strong and devastating. This poem is so important, and I believe many more people need to read this. Not many are aware of the loophole the 13th amendment created and the consequences it unleashed. I’m so sorry that you were forced to become another body within the system and treated inhumanely. I hope that one day a more humane approach will be taken to amend crime, but until then, keep fighting and keep writing. This was such a powerful piece of work, and I hope you write more like it. You have a beautiful way with words.

  23. Edmon on April 24, 2021 at 12:24 AM

    Hi im Edmon and im in a class that aims to engage with the community beyond the university and corporations. Wow this was an amazingly written poem. I really like how you put Martin Luthers words in it. I can’t imagine what you have to struggle with and go through. This was a well needed poem for everything that is going on in the world at the moment. Good job and good luck in the future I hope things get better.

  24. Isabella Curcio on April 25, 2021 at 2:03 PM

    Great poem! This is so meaningful in today’s world and I love that you made a theme of racism that has been ingrained into society since the beginning of time! It was very powerful and shows that we still have a long way to go.

  25. Rebekah Ralston on April 29, 2021 at 9:08 PM

    Great poem! This was a very well written poem. The inclusion of the 13th amendment at the end really added to the power of the piece.

  26. Cathie on April 30, 2021 at 9:40 AM

    Wow. Drawing our attention to the amendment and the power of that one word really expands my ideas of what impact language has. Your language is powerful itself and shows how language can help as well as fix bad ideas into law.

  27. Annie on May 1, 2021 at 9:21 PM

    This is such a powerful piece commenting on the prison industrial complex and that relates back to the institutionalized culture of police brutality. I think those specific words in the 13th amendment are often overlooked in how they still to this day marginalize the black community to a very large amount. Please continue to write your words are incredibly powerful.

  28. cm on May 2, 2021 at 5:38 PM

    Hello KW – thank you for sharing this poem with the world! I am currently in a college English class called Writing and Community, where we focus on interacting with the community outside of the university setting to enhance our learning and help those around us. I really enjoyed reading your poem. I found it very emotional and very creative, and I really liked how you tied everything back to the 13th amendment. I think this poem is so well written, and you give so many powerful examples of how one word written so long ago is still hindering the lives of African Americans today. You seem to be a great and passionate writer, and I hope you continue to use poetry as a way to express yourself and your emotions. I wish you good luck and happiness in the future!

  29. Aracelli on May 2, 2021 at 10:57 PM

    Hi KW,

    I really love the repetition of “one” at the beginning of each line. It creates such a powerful message. I was aware of the wrongful arrest of Black people for the use of labor, but I wasn’t aware of this part of the constitution. This poem holds so much emotion in such little space. Great work.

  30. Grace Denno on May 3, 2021 at 10:10 PM

    I am a student in a community service course at Wayne State in Detroit whose goal is to engage with the community beyond the university. When I discovered Free Minds I was immediately thrilled to see the connections build around your writings and heart, and what you have to offer is a powerful and beautiful gift to the community. It was a true privilege getting the opportunity to read what is on your heart and mind, your desires and passions, thoughts, and struggles. You have so much to say, so much wisdom to give, and such deep experiences and desires to share with the community that people from all walks of life, backgrounds, beliefs, and ages can deeply connect with and affiliate with. Keep engaging with the community and making your voice heard. You bring healing, hope, and renewal of mind to many who have the privilege to share in your poetry. I thought your use of literary repetition was a powerful tool to use in this particular work. It helped usher and convey your message with power and poise to your audience. You clearly have a distinct gift and voice as an artist to speak the truth as an advocate for justice and liberty, speaking on behalf of those who are often overlooked due to this “except” exception. I want to encourage you by adding to the Martin Luther King quote you cited by saying, “Only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” -MLKJ “I Have been to the Mountaintop.”

  31. Reilly on May 5, 2021 at 10:53 AM

    This poem is incredibly powerful. To have so many pieces put together was brilliant and well executed. I had no idea of the word “except” and it baffles me that it is placed into the 13th Amendment like that. Wonderful work, we must all keep fighting for equality when our world faces injustices like these.

  32. Marcella Willis on May 7, 2021 at 8:56 AM

    That is such an incredible poem. I love how you set it up. The suspense in the first part. Then it’s like you drop a bomb. The incredible power of a single word (“except”) that was inserted in the 13th Amendment – deliberately and intentionally, which you present the impact of without needing to explain, just pointing the reader’s attention to it. And the third part with MLK’s quote is another powerful section, and with just that it helps one understand how this has been a tool perpetuating systemic racism in the US ever since. Amazing. Well done.
    Peace be with you my brother, Marcella

  33. Marcella Willis on May 7, 2021 at 9:46 AM

    I should have said “Peace be with you my sister/brother” (I’m sorry for my own ingrained bias). Thank you for your poem. Marcella

  34. Shaili on October 17, 2021 at 5:58 PM

    This was an incredibly eye opening poem – such a subtle addition but it has such an impact on today’s society – thank you for writing & I hope you continue to do so!

  35. emilylam99 on October 17, 2021 at 6:59 PM

    In this poetry, you have communicated a powerful and obvious message. Your fury is palpable in your remarks, and it makes me angry as well. This is extremely relevant in today’s world, and I love how you used racism as a subject, which has been engrained in society since the dawn of time!

  36. Bhavin C Narotam on October 18, 2021 at 1:33 AM

    The repetition really helps to make this poem powerful because it hits the point right on the head.

  37. Mary on November 17, 2021 at 1:03 PM

    I love the format of your poem, how you repeated “one word” every line and then actually put the 13th amendment in. Bolding “except” also really makes it stand out. This is a very powerful poem and very unique!

  38. Meg McTaggart on November 17, 2021 at 1:10 PM

    You should be a professional speaker. This is so impactful, with so little words. Concise yet so powerful.

  39. Sadie on November 17, 2021 at 1:12 PM

    This is such a simple but profound poem. The power that words have over our lives. Also absolutely incredible title to your poem.

  40. Elle on November 17, 2021 at 1:26 PM

    This is such a powerful piece. While I have read the amendment before, I have never looked at it the way you showed it here – that one word continues to oppress and degrade a whole group of humans. There is so much power in the words we put in our laws, and each one matters. If this had been “even,” I wonder what the country would look like today – or just what our prisons would look like. The way you used repetition to tie this idea back to things we might not think of as immediately connected to mass incarceration was brilliant.

    I would like to also send you a word of encouragement. You have such a strong soul and bright mind; I hope that others will see this in you too. Keep your head up and remember that you are worthy.

  41. Anonymous on November 17, 2021 at 1:30 PM

    AMAZING! Very deep, moving and profound.

  42. Ezra on November 19, 2021 at 12:15 PM

    I had never before realized the inclusion of “except” in the amendment and the ramifications of such. Very eye-opening and revealing into how Americans perceive the black community.

  43. Ella on December 7, 2021 at 5:25 PM

    This poem is so powerful and evokes a lot of emotion. I hope you never stop writing and fighting for change.

  44. Kora on May 31, 2022 at 6:49 PM

    this is such a powerful poem! Up until reading this, I had no idea the power “except” had in the oppression and racism in the US. It is still shocking to me in a country that is supposed to be the “land of the free” still allows such racism and hypocrisy. Thank you for writing on this very important subject matter. I hope you continue to do this and point out other wrongs in this world.

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