City College student overcomes pain through poetry and prose


Desiree Erdmann

Jeremy Siegel Steffen writes poetry in a grassy patch next to the ECC building on Feb. 5, 2020, at City College in Santa Barbara, Calif. Steffen writes poems here during his free time between classes or working at The Well.

Valerie van den Broek, Arts and Entertainment Editor

When negative things surrounded Jeremy Steffen in his youth, he found comfort in poetry.

At the age of 12, he would find peace sitting by the creek near his home.

His poetry varied from writing about the nature around his home to writing about his anger and frustrations over family issues.

“I wrote a lot of stuff to escape,” Steffen said.

Growing up, Steffen woke up every morning in a nearly freezing house with no warm water.

He put on his best outfit and headed to his job at a winery in Sonoma County, where he saw bottles of wine sold for thousands of dollars.

One thing that he had was his poetry, something that he could put his feelings into, something that helped him through his troubled times.

When his aunt offered to move him to Santa Barbara and pay for his education, Steffen knew his life would take a 180-degree turn.

This was going to be a new start.

“I remember wearing my cowboy boots to school on my first day when everyone wore flip flops,” he said.

Eventually, he sought help from City College counselors to deal with his depression and anxiety.

“I had a negative connotation to everything,” Steffen said. “I didn’t feel like a whole person before counseling, but after, I felt whole again, so did my poetry.”

After keeping his poetry to himself for years, he slowly decided to share his art with his girlfriend, Alex Feller.

“I was worried that people thought it was a girly thing,” Steffen said. “It was a stigma.”

But Feller couldn’t disagree more.

She said that he writes her romantic, sweet and touching poems. Things that make her feel seen, giving her an opportunity to see herself through his eyes.

“It’s really beautiful,” she added. “Sometimes he’ll leave some in my house or put them in my bag.”

The positive feedback came as a pleasant surprise.

Steffen wrote a poem for Feller’s mother, to thank her for her constant support over the years. 

“You lend your hand, as loves not a privilege,

When you raise one, you raise a village.” — Jeremy Steffen. 

As Feller began to grow close to him, things from the past surfaced.

“I didn’t think of him having depression or anxiety,” she said.

A big support for Steffen in the Well Club, a place where he can help others who go through the same that he went through.

“He has blossomed,” Feller said. “Through The Well, he helps other people, which is really neat.”

Rebecca Bean, student program advisor at The Well, said that she was grateful to Steffen as a co-president for the club.

“He has been a dynamic student leader around health and wellness,” she said.
Now at the end of his City College career, Steffen will be three associate degrees richer. He will earn one AA-T in communication, one AA in arts and humanities and one AA for science.

His plan is to go to UCSB with the help of the Blue and Gold Opportunity Plan, a plan that pays for a student’s tuition if they are a California resident and their family earns an income of less than $80,000 per year.

Steffen’s plan is to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

It will make him the first one in his family to do so.

Putting pen to paper gave him liberty to express his thoughts, and he will not stop anytime soon.

“I feel like I can do whatever I want,” he said.