Book Review: In the Key of Love

Book Review: In the Key of Love
Photo by Jon Sievert

By Boston Woodard

By far, the most widely practiced method of passing time in any prison is reading. Reading in prison is a failsafe way of escaping without negative consequences. Prisoners are voracious bookworms that will go to great lengths to get a book that interests them.

When a fantastic book comes along behind prison walls, you’ll often hear, “Hey man, can I read that after you?” If two guys are already in line to read the book, the man asking will be third in line, the next man is fourth, etc. I’ve seen men wait weeks, even months for a good book.

I just received a fantastic book, one that hits close to home for us prisoners, and the waiting-to-read line is already growing. In the Key of Love is the fifth anthology created by the student/members of Pops the Club ( from Los Angeles, Harrisburg, Pa., and Baltimore.

Pops the Club transforms the shame and stigma facing youth with incarcerated loved ones into hope and healing. Through high school–based clubs, Pops the Club offers a sacred space where students connect with each other and create a supportive, openhearted community.

Club members write, draw, paint, talk, listen to guest speakers and share their own stories. Club members are resilient, full of strength and love.

In the Key of Love is a kaleidoscope of young lives left behind because of incarceration. The stories, poems and artwork define the effect on young people who have done nothing wrong except love someone who done something bad. In the Key of Love anthology illuminates the courage and soundness it takes to talk about the void Pops the Club members experience.

Venus High School graduate Jessica De La Mora writes, that “my life changed forever on the day the cops took my father away from me and my family.”

Whether in a lengthy heartfelt essay such as De La Mora’s, a short poem or a six-word memoir like Juan Salas’ poignant entry, “Wanted Full Time and Loving Father,” these writings illuminate the many trials and tribulations as well as the success and accomplishments by the youth left behind as a result of incarceration. An eclectic assortment of sketches and various artwork can also be seen throughout the anthology.

Pops the Club member and high school senior Jennifer Birstein talks about her mother’s substance abuse in her entry “Chose the Streets Over Me”: “One night it got so crazy, she attempted murder. All Dad wanted was to take the bottle from her. Neighbors heard us and couldn’t sleep, and then the sirens pulled up, and beep, they took her away—that was the day, seeing her put in handcuffs pushed me to tears.”

Venice High School football player Marcel Manson wrote in his poem “Where I’m from Is Madness”: “Growing up most kids were taught the ABCs, I was taught to kill and leave the scene vacant. Living in a house that sold crack in the basement, I had to embrace it.”

Every possible bad thing that occurs after a young person’s loved one is imprisoned is raised in In the Key of Love. Pops the Club members dug down deep to tell you their stories. They left no stone unturned. The conscientious effort, raw talent and focus it took to complete this anthology is beyond admirable. But it’s the courage and love these young people have for life and what’s in their future that’s super impressive and all-inspiring.

If you have ever known someone who has been incarcerated—mothers, fathers, siblings, friends or neighbors—this fantastic anthology, In the Key of Love, will tell you about the children left behind in their own words. Pops the Club members as well as club graduates don’t pull any punches while defining their circumstances.

You can view the four previous anthologies—Runaway Thoughts (2014), Ghetto by the Sea (2015), Before There Were Bars (2016) and Cracked Masks (2017)—by visiting


Boston Woodard is a prisoner/journalist who has been contributing to the Community Alliance since 2005. He is the author of Inside the Broken California Prison System ( To learn more about Boston, contact


  • Community Alliance

    The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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