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POPS the Club


POPS the Club provide arts-based healing for underserved Los Angeles youth with justice-involved loved ones. Students will have the opportunity during lunchtime meetings to gain the skills and tools to heal the stigma and pain of the prison system while building the foundation for a productive and positive future. Students will create artwork and writing for publication and performance as well as a video documenting the project and performances to spread awareness about the effects of incarceration on young people.

Please describe the mission of your organization.

The mission of POPS the Club is to create a safe, empowering space within high schools for the children and other loved ones of the incarcerated. POPS transforms stigma and shame into hope and dignity.

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • County of Los Angeles
  • LAUSD (please select only if you have a district-wide partnership or project)
  • Culver City, Lawndale, Santa Monica, Woodland Hills

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Expand existing program

Please list the organizations collaborating on this proposal.

  • Defy Ventures

If you are submitting a collaborative proposal, please describe the specific role of partner organizations in the project.

POPS and Defy will combine elements their existing programs to create a collaborative project aimed at healing the pain of the prison system amongst currently and formerly incarcerated people and their family members. Through workshops and community events, our efforts will culminate in 1) an anthology of writing and artwork created both in POPS Clubs and in our collaborative workshops; 2) a community and in-prison performance; and 3) a video featuring members of each of our organizations performing their work and speaking about the impact of our PLAY together. Project outcomes will be increased well-being, confidence and support in of POPS students, Defy members as well as altering community members’ negative perceptions of those impacted by the criminal justice system.

What is the need you’re responding to?

Mass incarceration affects not just those convicted of crimes, but also their loved ones left behind. The community experiences this loss as a “shared sentence.” Stigma and trauma are part of the fabric of the lives of one in fourteen children in America who have faced this kind of separation. In just over 30 years, the number of people in prison in the U.S. has swelled from 350,000 to 1.5 million and disproportionately affects people of color and low-income populations. And yet, the pain of the prison system for those left behind remains invisible. The children impacted by incarceration are disproportionately more likely to have higher dropout rates and higher incidences of depression and anxiety. As a result, they face greater challenges in school. They need a vehicle by which to navigate the minefield of their pain and loss.

Why is this project important to the work of your organization?

POPS was created to provide that vehicle. For the past seven years, POPS has been transforming the lives of Los Angeles teens with loved ones in prison or jail through the use of creative expression, emotional support, and community to nourish, inspire, and empower POPS youth. Formerly married to a man who was incarcerated, co-founder and executive director, Amy Friedman, witnessed first-hand the wound having an incarcerated parent created for her two daughters. Her passion to reduce the traumatic impact of incarceration on youth led her in 2012 to co-found POPS at Venice HS with her second husband, Dennis Danziger, a veteran high school English teacher. Today, POPS is in 15 schools across four states, and one of two organizations in the country that provides trauma-informed, arts- and school-based activities designed to support teens with justice-involved loved ones.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this proposal?

Direct impact
Indirect impact

Please describe the broader impact of your proposal.

The stigma of justice-involvement often leads to recidivism, substance abuse, depression, and unemployment. Family members of these individuals, children in particular, also serve a “silent sentence” deal with a range of emotions – fear, anger, anxiety, shame, and confusion. This diminished self-esteem robs both justice-involved individuals and their loved ones of social opportunities, causing them to withdraw from their community. Both POPS and Defy work to shift the mindsets of justice-involved individuals and their loved ones to heal and reframe the stigma about incarceration. Expanding this dialogue to include the general public is critical to helping both vulnerable populations have a successful chance to rejoin their communities.

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

POPS’s goal is that students learn to heal the stigma and shame so often experienced as a result of having an incarcerated loved one.

As a result of participating in POPS the Club, students report an increased desire to graduate on time, improved grades and behavioral marks in school, and an overall optimism about life that they did not have before. The best outcomes of POPS programs are evident in individual student testimonials. Students who intended to drop out of school before finding POPS are staying in school, graduating, and going on to attend college. Students suffering deep depression, anxiety, and anger self-report they attribute their healing through the self-expression they learned to do using POPS’ writing, storytelling, performance, art-making, and mindfulness curriculum. Students choose a positive future by leaving gangs they would have never before envisioned exiting as they understand continued involvement might lead them down the same path as their justice- involved loved one.

In addition to the numbers served, POPS collects this data through participant surveys for qualitative impact around how their participation with POPS has affected the stigma, shame, community connection and mental and physical health. This is measured through pre- and post-participation surveys designed in collaboration with USC and CSUN Departments of Public Health. POPS regularly reviews these materials, using the information to adjust training and presentation methods and curricula accordingly.

Which of the play metrics will your submission impact?​

  • Prevalence of trauma and adverse childhood experiences
  • Crime rates

Are there any other LA2050 goal categories that your proposal will impact?

  • LA is the best place to CONNECT

Which of LA2050’s resources will be of the most value to you?

  • Access to the LA2050 community
  • Host public events or gatherings
  • Communications support