By Boston Woodard
During the past four years, I’ve watched POPS the Club grow into one of the most significant opportunities for youth who have been affected by the criminal justice system. Most people these days know that the stigma of incarceration affects not only the imprisoned but leaves devastation in its wake. Family, friends and communities undergo dramatic changes as a result of a loved one being locked away.
No one suffers a loss to incarceration more than the kids left behind. I was a POPS kid before there was a POPS. There is no barometer for measuring the psychological impact of incarceration. Imprisonment changes lives fast, without discrimination to race, religion, social status or ethnicity. It destroys families, communities, lives.
I was blessed to have the opportunity to write the first article about POOPS the Club. As a contributing columnist for the Community Alliance newspaper in Fresno, California and a feature writer for the San Quentin News, in 2014 I was able to publish an article about POPS in both publications.
Nothing behind prison walls matches the pain of the prison system endured by the youth left behind. When I learned POPS the Club had arrived, I wanted to tell everyone about it. I wanted to somehow get men in prison to learn about POPS and what it’s doing for the kids left out there.
The more I learned about POPS, the more I realized that nearly every man I know in prison once was a POPS kid. In that first article, I was able to tell readers how Amy Friedman and Dennis Danziger created this wonderful atmosphere, this school community where young people can lift the shame and sorrow of dealing with their personal connection to incarceration. I believe the premise of POPS is brilliant.
When I arrived at CMF state prison in Vacaville, California, there was no writing group for prisoners. Most prisons have one, and so I decided to create one. I sought permission to begin a Creative Writing Guild (CWG), and the prison’s Chief Deputy Warden Dan Cueva approved my proposal and gave us permission to invite guest speakers to attend our weekly meetings. With Amy’s assistance, the Creative Writing Guild has had a flow of inspiring speakers.
Members of CWG told me that one of their interests is in writing about the prison system and the effect it has had on their personal lives and the lives of those around them. I passed around copies of the POPS anthologies that have inspired me. The guild members were blown away at the intelligence, candor, and courage they found in those pages.
In my book Inside the Broken California Prison System I wrote about some of the system’s endemic failures and misdeeds by prison officials and some of the pain of being locked up. But what I wrote about pales in comparison to the stories POPS the Club members write about in these anthologies.
It was the personal expressions in the POPS collections that inspired members of the Creative Writing Guild to create our own anthology, and because of members’ enthusiasm, we decided the motto for our guild should be “In Vision with POPS the Club.” Sometime in 2017, the CWG will publish our own collection. We truly appreciate the hard work, dedication and inspiration members of POPS the Club express and for illuminating such important, often overlooked consequences of incarceration—the youth left behind.
Thank you, POPS, for your ongoing effort to make life, understanding, family and opportunities healthier for so many affected by the pain of the prison system. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, you inspire us by example.
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