In 2016, Staff Sergeant (SSG) Charles Stokes, after losing a custody battle and death of his grandfather, struggled to find purpose/motivation. He described his depression as so extreme that he slept 18 hours each day and still found it challenging to get up in the morning…until he met pen and paper and committed to writing every day.

Stokes dabbled in writing poetry as a leisure activity before joining Seema Reza’s hospital writing program but his attitude towards writing shifted to a lifestyle of written words after hearing Seema’s “soothing” voice establish a safe, non-judgmental environment among participants. Something about her approach made him feel tranquil and balanced. After Charles read his first poem aloud, his peers responded with positivity and support. He felt validated by the group and, determined to better tell his story, he became motivated to write every day, regardless of whether he was with the group.

In fact, after just a few sessions, he recognized this new skill developing within him. Charles went on to write for five days and gave life to more than 50 poems which he self-published in his first of two Love Pain & Poetry books, a collection devoted to addressing the five stages of grief.

His message for others who may be dealing with depression is to make space for creativity.  “When life was good, I didn’t think about using my voice,” he said. Stokes expressed that it was the culmination of stress and anxiety, his depression and the need to stand up for himself that made him realize this.

“Writing saved my life,” is not an over-exaggeration for this Soldier turned poet, publisher, open mic host, and alumni/friend of CBAW. If therapeutic outlets were offered a la cart, Stokes would’ve chosen writing as his appetizer, main dish, side and dessert; in his opinion, writing has been the single most effective thing for him.

Earlier this year, he found himself scrunched within his hoodie, discreetly sitting under the dark lights at an open mic night in Washington, DC where his mentor, Seema Reza was scheduled as the guest. Excited at the prospect of reading his work before the audience and the one person who altered his way of approaching life via written word was an unforgettable experience for Stokes. A Baltimore native, Charles Stokes joined the Army Reserves in 2000 and has served on active duty since 2007. He continues to serve in the DC Area.

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Charles Stokes regularly performs and hosts open mics around the region. Keep up with him on his website and Facebook Page


Interview by Jen Vaughn