A Conversation with Amy Friedman of POPS the Club
by on February 8, 2017 in Community Engagement Interviews


Can you tell us about your organization/the work you do?

My interest and empathy for children who are impacted by incarceration stems from a deeply personal place. In the 1990s I was married to a man who was in prison, and I raised my ex-husband’s daughters. He and I divorced, but the girls remain daughters to me, and over the years, recognizing the shame, stigma and sorrow they suffered, I knew I had to find some way to support children like them.  Cut to 2013; by then I had been married for a decade to Dennis Danziger, author and high school teacher, and he and I one day came up with what seemed such a simple idea: to launch a club at Venice High School where Dennis was teaching to support, nurture, nourish and empower this population. We launched POPS (Pain of the Prison System) in February that year, and months later became a nonprofit with a mission to create, train, support and sustain clubs for this population across the country. As of this month, we have clubs in 11 schools, most in southern California, though also in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and northern California. We train volunteer teachers and support staff to run these clubs once/week, providing opportunities for these students to learn they are not alone, to discuss their battles and their successes, to learn from guest speakers. We also publish our students’ writings and artwork created in these clubs in annual anthologies, on our website (http://popstheclub.com/our-stories/read-stories-by-p-o-p-s-authors/), and in partner publications including The Good Men Project https://goodmenproject.com/author/pops-the-club/ and Narratively Magazine http://narrative.ly/my-life-sentence-of-shame/. We are growing fat, and with our growth has come a small but mighty staff and an ever-growing team of wonderful volunteers that include some of our POPS student graduates.

What are the most exciting moments working with this community?

The most exciting moment of working with this community are without doubt those moments when I either hear a young person talk about the way in which POPS has changed their lives–and when I see evidence of their feeling empowered and strengthened in the beautiful artwork they create. I’m proud of our anthologies because it is in those anthologies that we hear from the students’ themselves–and this is a population that has too-seldom had a voice and whose stories all of us need to hear. Understanding how incarceration impacts so many hundreds of thousands of innocents will, I believe, help us to end the shameful mass incarceration in this country.
How do you stay engaged when it feels challenging or when you are fatigued?
When I feel discouraged, fatigued, overwhelmed by the tasks ahead, I’m inspired by the people I work with. First, there’s my husband. He’s been a brilliant partner both as a husband and as a co-founder, Venice High POPS sponsor and board member. He jokingly calls himself my Executive Assistant, but in many ways that’s no joke. Then there are the generous board members, our amazing staff, Mel Keedle, Meryah Fisher, Lauren Marks, Alison Longman and Arielle Harris. There are the Ammo folks who have given their time, their hearts, their souls and their talents to our clubs. And most of all there are the kids–there are moments like the other day when I felt as if I was going to collapse from exhaustion and one of our students whispered, “I don’t know what I would do if it weren’t for POPS–I always feel strong when I’m here…” Boom. I felt fine. So it’s the people–all these people who give and give and give.
What are the benefits to getting involved locally? Has it taught you anything about LA specifically? Has anything surprised you?
Benefits of being involved locally…I’m told by those who volunteer with POPS that like myself, whenever they spend any time with a group or any of the individual POPS students, they come away from the experience energized and inspired. Dennis is one example; he planned to retire three years ago and but continued to teach because of all the joy POPS has given him. The rooms where POPS clubs meet feel sacred in a way that’s difficult to understand or describe, but everyone who visits a club feels it–the energy in the room that is composed of a group of people empowering and nourishing others. Everyone walks out of these (very short, usually 35 to 40 minutes max, once/week) club meetings feeling stronger and more joyful. Despite the sadness that is so much a part of so many of these students’ lives, POPS Clubs feel joy-full. And fielding volunteer support in LA has changed my view of LA entirely–where once I felt LA was dense with self-involved souls, the oceans of generosity, soul, energy, passion, compassion and warmth Angelenos have shown has stunned me and has led me to falling in love with LA (and not because of the weather).
Learn more about POPs and how to get involved by visiting www.popstheclub.com
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