While working as a columnist for a newspaper in Ontario, Canada, Amy Friedman ’74 visited several prisons to report on the criminal justice system and fell in love with an inmate. That relationship led Friedman to immerse herself in prison rights activism and create a program that assists children whose parents are incarcerated.
Friedman married the inmate she fell in love with after his release and raised his two daughters, who suffered from depression and societal stigma from having a parent who had been in prison. (The couple later divorced.) Today, she and her second husband, high school teacher Dennis Danziger, are the founders of the Pain of the Prison System (POPS the Club), a program for high school students who have family members in prison.
POPS gives students an outlet for their experiences through storytelling, personal narrative, poetry, and art, and builds bonds with fellow students. Attending the first meeting often feels like the reveal of a “dirty secret,” says Friedman. She recalls watching two girls who had been friends for years encounter one another at a POPS meeting. Neither knew the other had an incarcerated father. They “flew into one another’s arms,” Friedman says. “An incredible burden was lifted.” The program helps students build community and acknowledge their experiences rather than hide from them, she explains.
The first club launched at Venice High School in 2013. There are now 11 clubs in schools across California, Georgia, and Pennsylvania that have helped hundreds of students. POPS trains teachers and volunteers to lead weekly lunchtime meetings where students talk through their experiences and hear from guest speakers. Students share their writing and artwork in an anthology. Cracked Masks: With You and Without You, the most recent installment, includes more than 100 essays by students.