By Boston Woodard
Runaway Thoughts is an anthology of hope. Creativity and courage, a creation of the POPS (pain of the prison system) school club. This collection of personal stories, essays, poems, rap and visual arts is remarkable, the fruit of courage.
POPS is a school club that “welcomes any student (and school employee) whose lives have been touched by prison” declares the club’s mission statement.
Amy Friedman is an author and creative writing teacher, and husband Dennis Danzinger is an author who has taught English and sports literature in the Los Angeles Unified School District for 20 years and is now at Venice High School in southern California.
Friedman and Danzinger cofounded POPS after Danzinger recognized prejudices and punishment students’ families and friends faced for having committed no crime. They are guilty of loving someone who did something bad and is in jail or prison for it.
Runaway Thoughts is a compilation of emotional cleansing—a deep look into innocent souls of students at Venice High School. They’re talented young writers, poets, artists and photographers who allow us the privilege to look into their hearts “trusting that we will judge them on the merits of their work and or who they are deep inside,” said Danzinger.
“I remember the first time I visited my brother,” wrote Idalia Munoz. “It was the longest process ever.” After hours waiting to see her brother, “I was excited to finally see him and give him a hug until my dad told me there would be a window between us and we would talk on a phone,” said Munoz. “At that moment, I realized how screwed up things was.”
POPS club member Jerry Stokx wrote poignantly of his experience growing up in a home environment desecrated by drugs and alcohol. “I come from a little white house on Grandview Boulevard in Culver City…I come from a father who lost everything; family, money, work and even a hundred pounds,” said Stokx. “I guess that’s what meth, heroin, crack, coke and alcohol do to someone. The man was a zombie…droopy eyes, skinny face, scabs and yellow teeth.”
POPS’ first annual anthology allowed students affected by the beast of incarceration to have their say in a collective pulse of artistic expression on their terms. Runaway Thoughts is that pulse.
Courage, intelligence, honesty and self-respect are the components that bind this collection. The insight POPS club students reveal in the anthology is remarkably candid.
The idea of POPS was important to Friedman and Danzinger, and their dream is to see the club in every school. The thought and hope is to lift the shame and sorrow from those young people who must deal with the reality of having a parent behind bars, through no fault of their own.
The following are a few words of wisdom by Spoon Jackson. Jackson is a poet, a teaching artist and an award-winning author. He also is a prisoner who has, since 1978, been serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. He has been a huge supporter of POPS, answering questions about prison truthfully, openly and from the heart.
“You cannot [make up] for missed or lost time by trying to buy someone’s love and make up for not being around,” answered Jackson. “But a letter, artwork, a phone call, a long conversation or even one word or a few words, spoken out of realness can be uplifting, life changing and inspiring.”
“[That] so many kids are affected by prison usually surprises people,” said Friedman. “It should not. According to the 2010 Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in every 28 American kids has a parent in prison. Those numbers soar when you include those kids with siblings, friends, cousins, godparents, uncles or aunts in prison and those whose parents have done time in the past.”
POPS was created so that kids can have a community, a place to learn from each other and from guest speakers; a place where it is safe to voice their questions, their fear, their anger, their sorrow and their confusion.
“As this anthology makes clear, they have much to say. We would all be wise to listen,” said Friedman.
Boston Woodard is a prisoner/journalist. He writes for the Community Alliance and has written for and/or edited several prison publications. Boston is the author of Inside the Broken California Prison System, which is available at www.amazon.com. Learn more at www.brokencaliforniaprison.com. Contact him at Boston Woodard, B-88207, CMF, J-254, P.O. Box 2000 Vacaville, CA 95696-2000.