"POPS the Club is a nonprofit organization designed to provide support to teens whose lives have been impacted by the pain of the prison system. Many of these teens have a loved one who is incarcerated. This powerful collection, which represents the work of high school students from Los Angeles, Harrisburg, Atlanta, and New York City, illuminates the lives of these young creators and examines the difficulties they face because of the prison system. This is the seventh anthology of work by POPS students. Each page is a testament to how art can heal and express feelings and emotions. One short piece uses the death of a beloved goldfish as a metaphor. The collection includes haiku, free verse, and short stories. The artwork uses media such as watercolor, pencil drawings, comics, and photography. Each illustration connects to some part of a written work, creating a twofold connection. The emotion leaps from the page. The back matter includes biographical information about each student and an author's note, with more information about how POPS started. VERDICT A great purchase for libraries where art and short stories are popular and more diverse voices about incarceration and incarcerated family members are needed."
- Molly Dettmann
School Library Journal
Norman North H.S., OK
"An inspiring collection of teen-created poems, prose, and artwork that elucidates the hidden world of young adults living in a carceral state."
"Created by members of the POPS the Club, a national organization for high school students who have been impacted by incarceration (as the children or other loved ones of the incarcerated), the pieces are emotive but not resigned. Readers will connect to many of the major themes, including navigating change, overcoming adversity, advocating for social justice, and questioning one’s place in the world. Divided thematically into 12 sections, the entries show the daily realities and struggles of the student writers as they deftly navigate multiple spaces. Many of the teens’ challenges present as ordinary angst, like navigating school, while others point to deeper traumas, like parents with substance use disorders. Overall, their contributions are lyrical, haunting, and poignant, and the anthology marches toward hope. While the execution of some reflects the contributors’ youth, others, like “Me Nombraron Después de Ella” (“They Named Me After Her”) by Donaji Garcia, stand out for their mature use of metaphor, language, lyricism, movement, and pacing. Other pieces are a call to action, directly confronting the impact of incarceration on families and challenging adults to fix a justice system that is overburdened with imprisoned people while neglecting children’s emotional health."
"Birds sing outside cages: Overall hopeful selections inspire a desire to rethink justice and enact change."
- Kirkus Reviews
"In a collection of more than 150 original pieces created by members of POPS (Pain of the Prison System) the Club around the country, high-school students express their sorrow, confusion, anger, bewilderment, hopes, and dreams through poetry, essays, haiku, rap lyrics, drawings, paintings, photos, and collages. They tell stories that reflect different circumstances and experiences, but all reflect the pain of having an incarcerated parent, sibling, or loved one. The project began in Venice, California, in 2013, and this is the seventh volume of their work. The many contributions range in sophistication from filled-out template statements to achingly original imagery, and while there's hardly any swearing, many of the brutally honest, wrenchingly painful reflections address adult themes: drugs, gangs, self-harm, verbal and physical abuse, gender identification, and sexual preference. Originally envisioned as a safe place for teens to express their emotions and find validation, it's increasingly obvious that these POPS the Club communities deserve wider recognition. While the collection is sometimes tough to read, these are voices that deserve to be heard."
- Kathleen McBroom, Booklist
“POPS the Club has provided a critical space for young people affected directly by mass incarceration to voice their hurts, their emptiness, their awareness, and their poetic expressions. I’m awed by the unity of thought, feelings, and words that this writing forges against the odds. Such writing is initiatory, engaging the mythic imagination inherent in us all and birthing the new and unique the way all community-based initiations should do. These anthologies can be examples of the transformation possible in all wounds, making them wombs of new life, energy, and dreams instead of tombs of the dead things we tend to carry when we don’t let them go. I honor the work of Amy Friedman and everyone at POPS.”
— Luis J. Rodriguez, poet, novelist, journalist, and 2014 Los Angeles Poet Laureate; author of contemporary Chicano literature, notably Always Running; winner of the Carl Sandburg Literary Award; and cofounder of Tía Chucha Press
“My father was in prison throughout my teens and I so often felt alone. I cannot imagine how different the experience might have been if I’d had a community like that offered by POPS the Club. I wish I could take Dream Catchers and deliver it to my younger self, and with it all the solace, triumph, wisdom, and truth found in its pages. But I need it now too. These are the voices of the two million young people in this country with incarcerated parents—full of heartache, hope, insight, and compassion, and we all should listen.”
—Tyler Wetherall, author of No Way Home
“Nothing on earth tugs on my heartstrings more than kids being hurt, and I know how critical it is to listen to the kids who know all about injustice. The POPS the Club’s writers and artists represented in the POPS anthologies have much to teach anyone who is interested in social justice. Their stories, poetry, and artwork overflow with the experiences, wisdom, and insights of those whose lives have been touched by incarceration. They are not to be missed!”
— Scott Budnick, founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and One Community Films and producer of Just Mercy
“Parental and familial incarceration has destabilized families and communities throughout the United States. Our children, this country’s most precious commodity, have been affected more than any group. Many of them suffer in silence, unable to articulate their pain, their suffering, and oftentimes their shame. This collection of brilliance has provided those directly impacted with a mechanism to amplify their voices so that their stories can be heard and understood. This work will educate, positively influence, and empower every reader. It serves as a testament to the resilience, power, and intelligence of every single contributor. We all should be grateful for what these beautiful souls have created for our benefit.”
— Tony Lewis Jr., activist and author of Slugg
“As a woman who grew up with an incarcerated parent, I know how challenging being a teenager with a loved one in prison can be. POPS the Club gives high schoolers a voice, offering them opportunities to talk about it, write about it, and feel part of an ever-growing community. This collection of memories, thoughts, and ambitions represents the toll that everyone touched by the system knows. Through their pages, the writers and artists have found a rare form of empowerment.”
— Deanna M. Paul, journalist
“The diverse and powerful voices in Dream Catchers bear witness to the pain, heartache, and triumphs of everyday high schoolers touched by incarceration. In an age where the news is rife with stories of family separation and children being locked in cages, these poems, stories, and drawings have never been more relevant—or urgent.”
— Laurie Sandell, author of The Impostor’s Daughter and Truth and Consequences
“Dream Catchers is a must-read for directly impacted individuals and their allies. By bringing the voices of the youth to the forefront, POPS the Club gives readers unprecedented access to the experience of familial incarceration by the experts themselves—directly impacted individuals.”
— Whitney Hollins, PhD, educator, advocate, and author of Anna’s Test
“For twenty years I’ve transformed concepts to creations, helping dozens of authors find success in the marketplace, many becoming New York Times bestselling authors. I know what it takes to develop a compelling message, and I know powerful books and important messages when I read them. The POPS the Club anthologies are monumental works of vital, inspiring stories we all need to read.”
— Kristin Loberg, collaborator on Grain Brain, Hype, and The Switch
“I can’t think of a better way to convey the heartbreak and hardships of having an incarcerated family member than the POPS anthologies. I’ve seen many people (including myself) brought to tears by the gorgeous, honest poetry, essays, and artwork in Dream Catchers. It shines a brilliant light into a part of our country that too often is left in shadow.”
— Claire LaZebnik, author of Epic Fail, Things I Should Have Known, and The Smart One and the Pretty One and coauthor with Dr. Lynn Koegel of Overcoming Autism
“What is most impressive about the POPS anthologies is the overwhelming power of the truth and sincerity contained within their pages. In Dream Catchers, each story is heartfelt, honest, open, and fearless. The teenaged authors have voluntarily bared their souls in order that they might lighten their own psychic burden and maybe, just maybe, invent a better life for themselves. Short stories, poems, song lyrics, and artworks will last as long as these books exist, and the young contributors have made themselves immortal. Such an impressive accomplishment, and something that should be supported by reading Dream Catchers and all the POPS anthologies.”
— Damien Belliveau, motion picture editor, author, and creator of The PartBlack Project
“Through writing and art, discussion and community, POPS heals the stigma and shame so often felt by youth whose lives have been impacted by prison. They are the silent victims of our mass incarceration crisis. POPS should be in every high school in America, and its books, like Dream Catchers, should be in every classroom.”
— Christina McDowell, author of After Perfect and The Cave Dwellers and coproducer of A Survivor’s Guide to Prison
“Dream Catchers is a masterpiece of light-handed art: stories and perspectives from the children who pay the price of a growing carceral state. Reading this work forces us to see the human deficit of torn families and spirals of harm that our worship of nonrestorative procedural justice propagates. Above all, the bittersweet richness comes from the hope and resilience present on the page. Without shame, the young writers in these pages use their skill and clarity to find both solace for themselves and salvation for all of us.”
— Robert Pollock, teaching artist and manager of the Prison and Justice Writing Program, PEN America, and illustrator of Sing, Sing, Midnight
“Dream Catchers is a unique experience—a collection of poems, essays, and artwork that intimately connect us to a population of teenagers who are navigating life in a very particular way. These teens share their work with brave authenticity and a maturity well beyond their years. The work is powerful, heartbreaking, inspiring, and sobering. A must-read for anyone who truly cares to know the full impact of our prison system.”
— Jessica Tuck, actor, producer, and founder and executive producer of Spark Off Rose
“During the 1980s and ’90s, one of my most talented creative writing students lived in constant fear that her father would be sent back to jail merely for walking down a block where drugs were being sold. She and many other students lived with the shame that someone they loved had been incarcerated. Had POPS existed in those days, my students wouldn’t have had to feel so afraid or ashamed, because they would have been in a community of people who could sympathize with them and give them practical advice. And they might have fought despair by helping others with similar problems and by expressing their own feelings in poems and stories that would make them proud. Everyone will be inspired by the powerful work in Dream Catchers.”
— Stephen O’Connor, author of Will My Name Be Shouted Out?
“The first public reading by writers of the POPS anthologies back in 2015, presented at the Grove Barnes and Noble in Los Angeles, was a memorable and emotional event. Witnessing these new writers, nurtured by the POPS program, as they felt the power of their words, their stories—spoken in public and appearing physically in print—was a thrilling reminder of the roots of what we do as writers and why. I have no doubt that I heard voices for the first time that day that we will be hearing from in the future, and Dream Catchers is evidence of that!”
— Thomas Frick, art critic, museum editor, and author of The Iron Boys
“In Dream Catchers, young people bear witness to the pain, hardship, and multigenerational repercussions inflicted by our flawed prison system. With their poems, memoirs, and stories—beautiful, authentic, angry, yearning—we grasp in a profound way the human toll our mass incarceration policies exact on children and their families. As these works give voice to the youths who wrote them, they also empower us to deeper self-scrutiny and political action.”
— Deborah A. Lott, author of Don’t Go Crazy without Me and instructor of creative writing and literature, Antioch University, Los Angeles
“I found myself awestruck by these writers and artists impacted by mass incarceration. Their power to observe and to transform not only stigma around incarcerated people but their own pain, shame, and longing into something beautiful and lasting is worthy of much praise and thanks. I’m grateful they trusted us with this work, that we can step into their lives, however briefly.”
— Michelle Franke, Executive Director, PEN America Los Angeles
"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."
- Midwest Book Review