Today’s Mathematics


30 minutes of chaos
Plus 1 Public Pretender
Plus 1 judge
Equals 39 years
16 years, with about 5 of those drug and alcohol-induced
Produces a very impressionable mind
Countless days filled with violence
Equals a whole lot of trauma
Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Moorish Science, History
Plus studying mysteries
Equals a solid understanding
Empathy plus suffering
Equals a road to redemption


  1. monicabaietti on January 10, 2020 at 3:47 PM

    Wow, this poem has a lot of depth to it. I am sorry you have had countless days filled with violence, my hope is that one day you can move away from that and enjoy another experience.

  2. Patrick on March 4, 2020 at 11:53 AM

    This is a truly incredible poem. Each word expresses so much truth and I hope that you stay on that road to redemption. I believe in you. Please keep writing. -Pat

  3. Arina Borodkina on March 16, 2020 at 11:57 PM

    This poem really made me sit and reflect upon my own life. I abused drugs and alcohol in my teen years and I am very lucky that I never got in trouble for it, but you did and for that I am so sorry. You writing is very beautiful and I am so sorry you lived through violent situations. I am wishing you a blessed and positive future and I hope you stay strong and remember that you matter.

  4. Carol Abrams on March 20, 2020 at 1:56 PM

    Very clever structure, using simple math to express how things in people’s lives add and compound. You have a way with words. It takes a lot of skill to write succinctly and pack as much imagery and emotion as you do in so few words.

  5. Haley on April 1, 2020 at 4:08 PM

    This poem has resonated with me more than anything has in a long time. It initially caught my eye because of the title; me, being the math nerd that I am, saw the word “Mathematics” and was immediately intrigued. Upon reading it I became overwhelmed with emotion. I’m sure our lives are vastly different, but I understand the feeling of being young, impressionable and having to go through unfortunate circumstances that cause trauma. My trauma, although very hard to deal with at times, has not only inspired me to better myself and end the cycle of trauma, but to also remember the importance of empathy. The lines, “Empathy plus suffering / Equals a road to redemption,” are so powerful. Your words have made me feel inspired, hopeful, and understood. I hope suffering is in your past and your road to redemption is a happy one.

  6. moiragriffith on April 1, 2020 at 7:22 PM

    Hi JO,
    This poem really struck me – how you took something so simple and logical like math and applied it to your life experience, which seems to have been anything but simple and logical. It works well and makes the poem really powerful. I am sorry that so many years of your life have been characterized by violence and trauma. As you say, the end of your math equation is hopeful, so I send you hope and compassion from afar.

  7. Ian on April 8, 2020 at 12:54 PM

    This poem has a unique structure and I really like the theme of how your experience was an equation. You do a great job of expressing the problems of the justice system, and yet you do not end without expressing how you have responsibility in this equation. I look forward to reading more of your works, thank you for sharing.

  8. Kayelynn on April 13, 2020 at 1:54 PM

    Dear JO,

    Your writing approach in this poem is blunt and to the point, I found it unique that you treated the poem like an equation that ended in your evolution of sorts. You let readers know that 30 minutes influenced your life in a number of ways. You’re open about the fact that you’ve suffered through a lot, but I also like that you found a light at the end of the tunnel. You did not give up and grew through your situation, please keep writing and staying positive!

  9. heysyd123 on April 15, 2020 at 1:54 PM

    Hey JO,

    I know this poem must have been hard to write. I am so sorry that you have been through so much, but I want to thank you for being brave and writing about it. People need to know and I know that words have power and that they can change people. You are a great writer and your voice is needed. Keep writing!

  10. Molly Reed on April 18, 2020 at 6:51 PM

    Hi JO
    Thank you for sharing your poetry. I particularly enjoyed how you used calculations of time to dissect the memories you are sharing. You are very talented and I hope to read more from you soon. Best wishes.


  11. Elena on April 20, 2020 at 10:55 AM

    This poem was very moving and well written. I am sorry you have been through so much. You captured your experiences in a writing style that was both simple and complex, and I look forward to more of your art!

  12. Tiona Lancaster on April 22, 2020 at 2:42 AM

    I definitely was not expecting this type of poem based on the title, but I actually like that aspect. Although the poem isn’t exactly a super positive one starting out, it makes the reader more interested in what you have to say based on the title alone. I also like and respect that after all the chaos that ensues throughout the poem, it ends on a positive note, with a sense of reflection. Great job, keep on sharing.

  13. Nikayla Kirchner on April 23, 2020 at 4:49 PM

    Such a powerful analogy; the depth and weight you put into this poem is truly incredible, and I thank you for sharing this with us. I thought the best part was the transition and how the first half was written with a defenseless, hopeless, tragic tone, but by the end the tone was hopeful, as you concluded with “redemption,” not fear or death or hopelessness.

  14. Sydney on April 23, 2020 at 8:20 PM


    The way you described the courtroom was really powerful; how 30 minutes that move too quickly and two people who aren’t thinking deeply can completely change your life. I also think that the first equation (30+1+1=39), how what you expect to be 32 becomes 39, communicates how harsh and strange the judicial system is.

    The whole mathematical premise of this poem is really interesting and effective—how different events add up to create different outcomes. I like how you put both suffering and hope into the equations; you talked about a really traumatic past, and then explained how you’re working toward a better future. My favorite part was the last two lines because they seem to acknowledge struggle and love at the same time. Really powerful. I hope you keep writing.

    (As a side note, I thought the “public pretender“ line was a really clever description.)


  15. Emily on April 24, 2020 at 7:31 PM

    I love your use of numbers to hold meaning. I’m so sorry you had to go through that painful trauma, but I am inspired by your positive outlook. I believe in you and your ability to reach the redemption you are looking for.

  16. James C on April 29, 2020 at 3:43 PM

    Wow! You packed a story of mistakes, injustice, trauma, education, and redemption into a brief poem. I am inspired by your ability to grow and learn despite the adversity you have faced. “Empathy plus suffering equals a road to redemption” is an equation to live by. Although hardship and sorrow may seem impossible to get through, your poem shows your strength amidst all you’ve experienced. Thank you for sharing your story, JO!

  17. Andrew Christianson on May 3, 2020 at 7:07 PM


    I am incredibly moved by these excruciating words. You’re use of simple numbers really paints a vivid picture as to how monumental of an impact this short time played in your life. You are very strong for being able to express this scenario with me. You understand that the past does not have to dictate the future. I wish you peace in your future.

  18. Elijah on May 7, 2020 at 4:54 PM

    Powerful last two lines. Keep writing and never give up on brighter tomorrows.

  19. TB on May 8, 2020 at 12:31 PM


    As I was reading your words, they were really deep. You see life in a different way. The way you express your words with numbers is inspiring. Though that might be today’s mathematics, it’s always best to stay positive even when things are not going right.

  20. Christine T. on May 14, 2020 at 1:25 PM

    Dear JO,

    The style of writing that you used in this poem was extremely unique and impactful. Math is often seen as something that is logical and non-negotiable, without any nuance or the necessity for any type of deeper understanding of cause and effect (for example, 2+2= 4 and that is just considered a fact). Using math as a juxtaposition to your own life really highlights how people often the criminal justice system as something that is as cut and dry as mathematics, when in reality there is much more that is often going on “behind the scenes” in the lives of those accused of crimes. For example, when you talk about how “16 years, with about 5 of those drug and alcohol-induced/Produces a very impressionable mind” it showcases how oftentimes people just look at the simple “facts” of how someone got into an adverse position in life, without considering other things that have have had an effect on the individual that shaped their path. You really drove the point home that instead of viewing people’s lives as simple “math equations,” we should make an effort to realize that there are a lot more factors at play and nothing is ever as cut-and-dry as it seems.

    Thank you for sharing!

    Christine T.

  21. N. B. on October 19, 2020 at 4:12 PM

    This is a powerful poem which reminds me of the school to prison pipeline and this country’s mass incarceration problem. I loved the play on words and the format with mathematics and learning in school–I thought that made the piece especially deep. And although the speaker gets this sentence and has seen drugs and violence, I love how the end of the poem is him or her reconciling that education is a way out.

  22. Nick P on February 23, 2021 at 5:24 PM

    This a really creative and interesting way of telling a story. It’s direct yet uses literary techniques in a unique way.

  23. Anna on April 16, 2021 at 7:55 PM

    Hey JO, this poem is so powerful! It has so much depth and is so moving. It was really cool how you added math into it but it all worked together so well. You did a great job writing this. Thank you for sharing!

  24. Katie on May 3, 2021 at 3:57 PM

    30 minutes of chaos make a lifelong decision. The road to redemption is a road that isn’t always taken but I’m so glad it’s one that’s being taken. The redemption that you will feel from exploring the lives of others and expanding your take on life will lead you to places you would have never imagined for yourself. You are doing an amazing job by expressing your feelings and ideals through these poems and I highly encourage you to continue in doing so. You will find so many people who can relate to your message and will help you on this journey. You’re doing amazing things, keep it up.

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