Midwest Book Review (March 2021)

Dream Catchers represents the seventh volume created by the high school members of POPS the Club, and is an anthology of poems, prose, and art that captures the milieu and experience of the prison system—an environment that readers might not expect teens to be intimately familiar with.


The collection opens, surprisingly, with a letter reflecting the perspective of not a teen writer, but a POPS Club advisor, who provides a passionate pro/con perspective of the members of this group and why their writings are important: "We absolutely hate that you are here. We loathe it, actually. We detest that anyone as awesome as you ever has to walk through our doors carrying the burden of “tough stuff.” It’s not fair. You know it and we know it. We both wish things could be different. We want to come into your lives armed with a magic eraser and get rid of all the mess you have to deal with. We don’t want to have to run a club for students affected by incarceration. We like art and flower arranging clubs—heck, even clubs about motorcycles and sports are better than clubs about prison, right? But in the same breath, we love that you are here. Your smiles, your participation, and your resilience astound us."


With this introduction, plus a poem and a piece of art, readers may sense they are in for a treat, because the blend of poems, reflections, and painted images cementing them offer raw, emotionally candid portraits of incarceration and life challenges.
Take 'Mind, Body and Paint' by John Rodriguez, for example, which appears early in the collection. In this nonfiction treatise, Rodriguez reflects on a walk through Inglewood, California with spray cans in his backpack, intent on reaching a wall he can use as a billboard for his message.


The exact steps of his efforts are detailed in explicit moment-by-moment descriptions that lend a 'you are here' feel to his story: "I’m spraying away, letting my hand guide itself, letting it go free. The paint comes out, getting a right grip on the wall, leaving a trace of fine lines. I’m rotating the can as I write, getting the perfect flare and thickness of the line. While I’m writing, my body purifies itself—relieving itself of my stress and helping me forget my worries. No more getting screamed at by my mother. No one is telling me what to do. There is no better feeling than this. I’m in another world. Nothing bothers me. It’s just me, the wall, and the can, doing what I do best."


As the poems and writings evolve, readers will find their anticipation about what incarcerated teens think about the world and their place in it may be quite different than they anticipate.


The literary strength of these reflections, their intimate glimpses into not just experiences beyond the law but the rationale behind how these young people choose to interact with the world, and the diverse artistic formats translate into evocative works urban teens will find unusually compelling.


Another example of such unique writing is Maricela Romero's rap/poem piece 'Living in Los Angeles'. One almost walks the gritty streets with her: "Living in LA wasn’t always the best. You see, life through/my eyes would scare a square to death./Poverty, violence, murder, never a moment to rest./Fun and games are few but treasured like gold."


What does it mean to be a teen grappling with adult concerns in a milieu of challenge and inconsistency? 


Dream Catchers here provides a powerful survey of life inspections, questions, and answers. It is particularly strongly recommended as a teaching tool for reaching young adults who don't normally relish anthologies of literary writings. This audience, especially, will find much to like and wonder over in this powerful gathering of works by peers who found themselves on the opposite side of the law.