Image by Howard Watkins

Ghetto by the Sea: A POPS the Club Anthology

By Boston Woodard

Ghetto by the Sea is the second anthology by some extraordinarily talented teenagers and young adults at Venice High School in Los Angeles County. These writers, poets, artists and photographers are members of POPS the Club (Pain of the Prison System). High school teacher/writer Dennis Danziger and journalist/author Amy Friedman created POPS the Club for students who were adversely affected by having a parent, sibling, friend, cousin, godparent, uncle or aunt in prison or jail.

POPS the Club has been privileged to host a number of powerful guest speakers and supporters over the past couple of years including Hollywood film producer and founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition Scott Budnick; powerhouse speaker and artist Khanisha Foster; prison rights activists Franky Carillo, Bruce Lisker and Madeline Brand of NPR; Obie Anthony; Lakeisha Burton; writer Christina McDowell; and Los Angeles poet laureate Luis J. Rodriguez; and former NBA player Cuttino Mobley. California Inspector General Robert Barton, after reading an article about POPS the Club in the Community Alliance, said, “There should be a POPS the Club in every high school—transforming hidden shame to hope and hope into healing.”

The newly released Ghetto by the Sea is jam-packed with amazing stories about life under the unfortunate circumstances of loving someone who is incarcerated. As a special gift to us, POPS the Club members exhibit their talents and emotions on 179 pages with in Ghetto by the Sea. “Ghetto by the Sea” is the title of an opening poem by De’Jon K. Jones. The poignant revelations throughout the poem speak volumes of the tumultuous life young kids and students are left with as a result of the incarceration of a family member.

I come from paradise on one street to the ’hood on the next…

I come from not staying out too late, ’cause that’s playing with your life…

I come from being an athlete by day and a gang member by night…

I come from where if you make it to see age 18, you’ve hit a milestone in life…

I come from where sirens and helicopters are normal in life…

I come from where 90% of us don’t have a father figure, and 100% of our mothers worry about if we’ll make it back home once we step out of the house…

I come from where if the police interrogate us, we forget how to speak English…

I come from Venice, CA. 90zoo91, the Ghetto by the sea…

Danzinger and Friedman’s introduction explains that “the way to inspire teenagers to dig deep and to be brave enough to reveal their innermost feelings and share their stories is this: Stop talking and listening.”

Students indeed dug deep to complete this anthology. The stories, essays, poetry, art and photography between the covers are emotional truths written about the life of a POPS kid. Writer Angel De La Cruz’s essay, “All My Life,” reveals hard facts of pain of the prison system: “Since I was five, my father has been in and out of prison. I last saw him ten years ago when I was eight,” said Cruz. “I always wanted a real dad who would toughen me up, play catch with me…One that would play video games with me or give me those guy lectures and life advice.”

Angelee Velasquez wrote in “Defining Myself ” about how her mother is the reason that she is an independent young woman who will be successful, “I was raised by one woman. A strong woman. Who told me that a man’s approval does not need to define me.”

Dannie Maddox, who lived through the devastating reality of being raised around “alcoholics, druggies, and violence,” wrote of this lifestyle in a narrative titled “Because of You.” “I was taught to become violent when someone tries to control me or walk over me. I was raised around gang members and criminals. From the time I was six, they were teaching me how to defend myself at all times,” said Maddox.

The anthology’s interior photographs by Eduardo Hernandez and illustrated portraits by Hannah Schatzle throughout are as deft as any professional artist. The anthology’s book design/layout by Tracy Atkins and cover photos by Victor L.M. Demic are amazing. In addition, there is a Friends of POPS section of authors, free world and incarcerated writers, Venice High School graduates and teachers who continue to support and contribute to POPS the Club.

Word about POPS the Club is spreading. Conley-Caraballo High School in Hayward recently introduced a POPS the Club, the second in the nation. Soon we’ll be reading their stories too in that club’s anthology.

POPS the Club was created “as a place for those who have endured the pain of isolation, the sorrow and stigma of prison to find friendship, community, comradeship, compassion, healing and, most of all, a place that celebrates all they have to say,” said Danziger and Friedman.

For students to reveal themselves, “they demand respect. They need to know that their stories and creations will be taken seriously,” said Danziger. “Each of the anthology’s contributions exhibits courage, intelligence, honesty and self-respect.”

Ghetto by the Sea lets us all know that these students, these gifted young people’s lives, no matter where they live, know and love, matter. For more information about Ghetto by the Sea, visit www.popstheclub.com, www.facebook.com/popstheclub or Twitter: @popstheclub.

*****

Boston Woodard is a prisoner and author of Inside the Broken California Prison System (www. amazon. com). He is a freelance writer and has been a contributor to the Community Alliance since 2005. Boston has coauthored a new book Prison: The Ins and Outs (to be published soon) with longtime prisoner advocate and journalist Maria Telesco.

  • 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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