Starfish Impact supports criminal justice reform for a number of reasons, but today we want to share with you one of the many negative externalities that affects the lives of humans in contact with the justice system. When a loved one, whether a parent, sibling, child, or close relative is incarcerated, all of the family members experience the pain, loss, and shame that the incarcerated individual does. This experience of a ‘shared sentence’ is profoundly felt by children, who are more likely to drop out of school and experience depression and anxiety. This is only compounded by the justice system disproportionately affecting individuals of color and lower income populations.
Amy Friedman, Executive Director of POPS the Club, knows of this silent pain first-hand. Her former husband and the father of their two daughters was formerly incarcerated. Driven by the desire that her now adult children would have had a supportive community in school and to lessen the stigma that children of incarcerated parents experience, Friedman created POPS the Club. POPS stands for Pain of the Prison System and the Club brings together students for an evidence-based curriculum that includes communal eating, creative expression, and most critically, a safe space to gather, talk, and engage with one another.
Before POPS the Club was formalized as a nonprofit organization, Friedman recalls the first meeting of the Club where one student walked in and sat down to participate – only to be followed in shortly after by a longtime friend.
“The stunned look on their faces as they realized they both had incarcerated fathers but had never told the other really describes the secret pain many children face.”
It was at that moment that Friedman decided to become a 501c3 and expand the program to as many students across the country as possible.
The programming seeks to remove the stigma and secrecy that students experience and writing, reading, and performance are key elements of the program. Research has demonstrated that these interventions result in more self-aware, self-empowered, and self-confident teenagers. Moreover, participants are more likely to graduate on time, show a positive increase in academic and behavioral grades, and experience feelings of hope, healing, and optimism.
Robert Barton, Parole Commissioner, California, has said, “There should be a POPS Club in every high school in the country, and the voices and visions are beautiful and courageous.” The Club has expanded to over a dozen schools across four states and has its sights set on even more in the coming year. Alumni of the program have described it as the “best time in my life” and are actively reaching out to their networks to engage more supporters. Recently, an alumna was instrumental in making the introduction and solicitation that resulted in an individual making a four-year commitment after recognizing both the impact of the program and its financial needs to operate.
To support POPS the Club, individuals are welcome to volunteer at Club locations to welcome students, facilitate lunch and the curriculum, and most critically, serve as an warm and active listener. Additionally, the Clubs publish the penned work of student participants including poems, stories, and artwork, in an annual anthology that is available for purchase. The intent of publishing is to help others better understand the silent and hidden experiences of those affected by mass incarceration and to provide a vehicle and rehabilitative tool for self-expression. One supporter has said of the anthologies, “The POPS students represented in these pages are insightful and wise, and they provide readers invaluable viewpoints when approaching issues of mass incarceration.” Additionally, like all nonprofit organizations, POPS the Club welcomes financial support from individuals, foundations, and corporations.
Learn more about POPs the Club, follow them on facebook, twitter, Instagram, and youtube, and check out their #SeeUsSupportUs campaign which is increasing the visibility of and support for children of the incarcerated.
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