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PAIN OF THE PRISON SYSTEM: Students share life experiences in recently published book

Local students who have been impacted by mass incarceration recently published personal and inspiring stories, poems, stories and artwork in a book called “Dreamcatchers.”

Students part of POPS the Club, which stands for pain of the prison system, are empowered with the values of dignity, and community. POPS builds engagement through a curriculum focused on writing, making art, mindfulness and a guest speaker series. 

The club supports and gives a safe place for students to voice their fear, anger and sorrow, as well as their dreams and plans. 

In 2018, Communities in Schools of Georgia in Troup County applied for and was awarded a Project Safe Neighborhood grant and POPS the Club was a part of the services that was provided with this grant.  

CIS Executive Director Tabitha Lewis-Coverson said that many of the behavior problems and isolation that their students have are directly related to dealing with having family incarcerated. “It has allowed students to be open and use art and writing to convey their feelings,” Lewis-Coverson said. “The program is available at four of the CIS sites in the system.”

Site coordinator Nick Griffin said he prompted the students to write to themselves, another child or a parent that they wanted to talk to. 

Due to the sensitivity of the students in the POPs program in Troup County, students that were interviewed by The LaGrange Daily News staff have to remain anonymous. 

One student wrote in the book his point of view of the pros and cons of jail. 

“I wrote about how some of the inmates shouldn’t be in there for such a long time because I mean God had already forgave people for the things that they have committed,” that student said. “And they know that the things that they have done are wrong and are in the past.”

The student added that they wrote about their feelings on the death penalty and the impact it has.

“That is such a serious and emotional topic because it is their last breath,” the student said. “As a 13-year-old, I just have a lot of emotions thinking about all of that.” 

This year’s collection of “Dream Catchers,” represents the work of students from POPS Clubs all over the country, including Los Angeles, New York City, Atlanta, Harrisburg and LaGrange. 

“The anthologies are tools for rehabilitation in this way: Often children are loathed to tell their parents or siblings or other loved ones about the real impact of their incarceration on that child,” said Amy Friedman, editor of Dream Catchers, Co-Founder of POPS the Club. “They do not want to add to the stress of their incarcerated loved one, and they fear that telling the truth about what happens to them outside will increase that stress. They often feel protective or sometimes they are estranged from their incarcerated loved one and cannot share their feelings with that person — though they might “secretly” wish they could. Telling the story on the page provides an outlet, a kind of healing and an opportunity that somewhere down the road someone’s father or mother or sister or brother will read that piece, and it will strike a personal chord. Also, in terms of rehabilitation, it cements the desire to do well, to be free, to reconnect with family on a deeper level.”

One student, whose father is currently incarcerated, said they have a passion for the youth and wrote all her emotion about her dad in the book. 

“Having a parent incarcerated is really hard for a kid to go through,” that student said. “In my piece, I wrote my dad asking question, like why this? Why that? Why did you make those decisions to get you in there? I really dedicated it to my dad. I plan on sending it to my dad. I really miss him.”

They added that it was a really hard letter to write, especially being in class. 

“It was hard to sit there in the middle of the class day and not cry in front of my piers writing this,” they said. “It was hard to write it, but I did it.” 

They said that their father has been in jail for only two years but was sentenced to 55 years.

Another student spoke about having their parent back after they were released from prison recently. 

“I used to be able to see my dad every day, and then he went to jail for about five years,” they said. “For the longest time, I would cry because I could only see him through a screen when visiting him in jail. When he got out of jail, I was extremely happy and I wrote about what it was like for him coming home.” 

Griffin said listening to the student’s experiences has opened his eyes to a bigger issue.

“We all kind of have our own way of dealing with things,” Griffin said. “Incarceration affects everyone. Talking about it with middle schoolers is something most people don’t think of doing.” 

Griffin said he has been keeping students engaged in meetings virtually and in school. 

“They have opened up more and more,” Griffin said. “When we first started, it was only one or two students and now we have close to 20 students.”

Each year, POPS publishes a book collection of the poetry, stories and artwork created by members of POPS the Club. 

As POPS expands, so will the number of publications.

To order this year’s book, go to outofthewoodspress.com/buy/.