A Poet’s Passion Helps Students Searching For A Second Chance

By Trevor Keller | November 3, 2017


If a poet is only as good as his poems, Oscar Mireles could be considered writing royalty. Mireles was raised in Racine and attended UW-Oshkosh, where he developed a passion for poetry. He began to put his most personal thoughts to paper. No rhyme, just reason. He moved to Madison after college, and eventually found himself with a collection of poems that told his personal story.

“I have poems that talk about identity,” Mireles said. “As a father, as a male and as a Latino, trying to find my place in the world. I write poems about that.”

He’d publish some of his work in an aptly titled anthology.

“I was traveling in California, someone asked me, ‘I didn’t know there were Latinos in Wisconsin,’” Mireles said.

“I Didn’t Know There Were Latinos In Wisconsin” became the title of his book. It features poems from more than 40 Hispanic writers throughout the state. Mireles believes storytelling can be a powerful tool for social change.

“If you can think with your heart, then you really have an opportunity to move people and get them to look at things in just a little different way,” Mireles said.

That’s why he writes poems about his experience as a Latino in the United States. The titles of his work range from “Why Did You Name Me Javier, Dad?” to “My Mother Is A Social Worker Who Works In A Hospital.”



My mother is a social worker who works in a hospital

My mother translates for the Spanish patients

Especially after surgery

She touches their fear

With words that can heal


My mother is a social worker who works in a hospital

Surprisingly there is little blood

On her pink uniform

Just a day’s sweat and dirt

You wouldn’t know

She was a cleaning lady

If you looked in her eyes

My mother is a social worker who works in a hospital


In 2015 Mireles was named Poet Laureate, the official poet of the city of Madison. It’s one of the highest honors a writer can receive. It’s given Mireles more visibility to travel around the Madison area and share his story. He’s frequently invited to speak at schools and writing conferences. Whether it’s an elementary school student or aspiring adult writer, Mireles has dedicated his life to helping others find their voice. That’s most evident during his day job. Since 1994 he’s also been the Director of Omega School, an alternative school in Madison that helps people obtain their G.E.D. or High School Equivalency Diploma.

“When you’re a high school dropout, there’s not a lot of options. There’s not a lot of hope,” Mireles said. “What we do is provide an opportunity for them to kind of move on to the next part of their life.”

Omega School offers individual rooms and one-on-one tutoring to help students learn at their own pace.

“It’s a pretty quiet place to focus and start to learn to build your skills and confidence,” Mireles said.

It did just that for Louis Bentley. He attended Omega School in 1996. He credits Mireles and his mother for teaming up to make sure he completed his high school degree.

“Well at that that time I was very rebellious as a teenager,” Bentley said. “I think what he did was he took that aggression and molded and showed me how I could use it to create a positive impact in my life.”

Today Bentley works full time as a branch manager at an insurance agency in Madison.

“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Bentley said. “I love my life right now.”

Mireles estimates he and his colleagues have helped more than 3,000 people like Bentley earn their degree. Graduation pictures line the halls of Omega School, and Mireles says those are the success stories that move him.

“You see how proud they are. You see how proud their families are. You see how proud their children are,” Mireles said. “I’m proud to be a part of that but I’m more proud of their success.”

Trevor Keller

Trevor Keller

Trevor Keller is Executive Producer of “Wisconsin Life” for PBS Wisconsin. He loves photography and is always looking for a new Wisconsin park, trail or scenic overlook to explore.
2018-01-19T17:53:27-06:00Tags: , , , |

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