P.O.P.S. the Club

Two years ago I learned about P.O.P.S. the club from author/poet Judith Tannenbaum. “It’s a great program for young students who have a parent or loved one in prison through no fault of their own,” she said. After pondering her words, it occurred to me that no one really talks much about the wounding effect prison has on all those kids left behind when a loved one is imprisoned. It’s as if they did not exist. They are real. The voids in their lives are huge, and at times extremely painful.

Judith felt having something written about P.O.P.S. the club by a prisoner would be important as we live the life we write about. I thought it was a great idea and agreed with her about how important P.O.P.S. the club is. The more I learned about the group, the clearer it became that this may be one of the most important new prisoner-related programs to come down the pike in decades. I could not wait to write an article about P.O.P.S. the club.

After several communications with P.O.P.S. the club co-founder Amy Friedman, I had the background information I needed for my article. As I learned more about the club, the more drawn into its purpose I became. Although my tumultuous upbringing was not a direct result of a particular prison association, it had everything to do with the absence of a parent, my father, in my life from a very young age.

In the early 1960s, my father abandoned my mother with five kids when I was eight years old. I never wanted to talk about him or what he had done to our family. I have no recollection of our father hitting or beating us kids, but I do remember him hitting my mother on numerous occasions. The memory of my father hitting my mother has crowded my brain for many decades—it never goes away. I’m a firm believer now that talking about my father’s behavior then is important. Talking about it helps me to understand how anger can take control of someone and ruin their life, and the lives of others, for many years to come if not addressed.

My grandparents (on my mother’s side of the family) raised my older brother Ron after our father ran off. My three sisters, Georgine, Jane and Lori and I remained with our mother. I was pretty much raised on the streets, ignoring everything good my mother was trying to instill in me. I had no father figure in my life. I was a P.O.P.S. kids before there was a P.O.P.S. the club.

When I came to prison I had a beautiful wife and an infant son I never got to know. Forty years later, I have never met him. It’s a hole in my heart I can never heal. My wife divorced me not long after my incarceration. She remarried, and I never heard from her or my son again. I take full responsibility regarding my son and the reason he is not in my life today. Just like all great P.O.P.S. kids, my son was only guilty of having a father in prison who did some bad things. I can only pray he is happy today.

Occasionally my mother would try to discipline me—to no avail. At the age of ten, the year President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, I was in the fifth grade. Two years later, I somehow made it to the seventh grade and that was the extent of my education on the outside. I could barely read and my writing was probably around third grade level. I took it upon myself to self-educate. The streets were my classroom and experienced criminals were my teachers. Had there been a P.O.P.S. the club in my life during that time, it’s highly likely life would have served me a different outcome.

With my mother, Barbara, on welfare trying to keep us fed, attempting to make ends meet, and without any real parental oversight of my daily activities, I took advantage and began doing whatever I wished. I knew nothing about the Boy Scouts of America, the Y.M.C.A., Boys Clubs or any other groups and events many young kids are exposed to. I can only imagine what life would be like today had I been exposed to something as important as P.O.P.S. the club. The program would have been positive incentive for me to remain in school and develop important self-esteem and social skills all young people deserve.

I read Runaway Thoughts, the P.O.P.S. the club’s first anthology, and I was absolutely blown away by the talent expressed in the book. Page after page, I could relate to so much of what I read. P.O.P.S. the club members reached way down into their souls to produce that level of honesty. What impressed me most were the young writers and artists’ individual expressions of their sometimes painful realities. Unbelievably candid! They should be proud of themselves for their accomplishment.

What P.O.P.S. the club co-founders Amy Friedman, Dennis Danziger, and Anastasia Stanecki have set in motion is what I believe to be an educational experience of a lifetime. Young people in schools all over the country whose lives have been adversely altered due to the pain of the prison system should have access to such a wonderful family as is P.O.P.S. the club.

I have committed to stepping up to lend a hand with what support I am able to offer this amazing concept called P.O.P.S. the club.

Boston Woodard is a prisoner/freelance journalist, author of Inside the Broken California Prison System (Amazon.com) and co-author of the soon-to-be released PRISON: The Ins and the Outs (humblepress.com) with longtime prisoners’ rights advocate and journalist Maria Telesco.

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