Teens Impacted by Prison Share Their Hurts, Fears, Dreams, and Hopes Through Personal Reflections and Creative Expression

Research offers this startling statistic: One in 14 children in the United States has a parent who either is or has been behind bars. If that number astonishes you, it's because these young people have learned by experience to keep their truths close to the vest, lest they be stigmatized and judged.

There is, however, a club at Culver City High School where every week these teens have an opportunity to be seen, heard, and understood. They are members of a club known as POPS the Club.

Founded as a nonprofit in Los Angeles over a decade ago, last year The Pathfinder Network based in Portland, Oregon took over club operations to continue to provide and expand support for youth across the country whose lives have been impacted in any way by incarceration, detention and deportation.

Each year they release a book collection published by Out of the Woods Press that features writing and artwork created by the club members. Their award-winning books reflect the words and wisdom of youth who possess a perspective too seldom heard, seen, or understood, and the wisdom, resilience and talent to teach us all.

On February 13, 2024, their newest collection, ADVICE TO 9TH GRADERS: Stories, Poetry, Art & Other Wisdom (Out of the Woods Press) will be published. The impetus behind this collection was the opportunity for slightly older young people to teach those who are first stepping over the threshold of adulthood as they enter high school. The poetry, stories, and artwork in this volume speak, however, to everyone. As Kirkus Reviews points out, the work is "poignant and encouraging cheerleading from the trenches," with young people offering tender, deeply honest, and hard-won perspectives on everything from love to loss, from looking in the mirror to understanding the world everywhere around us.

The Los Angeles community is invited on March 2 at 2 p.m. to join some of the creators in celebration of the release at Downtown LA's Public Library in their Teen Room. Here the creators will officially launch Advice to 9th Graders, and many of the writers and artists will be reading aloud from their work. The editor, Amy Friedman, will also be there to answer any questions, and participants will be invited to contribute their own advice to 9th graders; these missives will be included in The Library's Zine Collection.

When discussing the impact both of the club and their powerful books, Leticia Longoria-Navarro, Executive Director of The Pathfinder Network, put it this way: "Hearing your experiences reflected in the stories of others, especially the hard ones, can lessen the impact of stigma, shame and adversity. Feeling like you are not alone in your experiences can create powerful shifts and open the door to meaning, healing and power."

Those unable to attend the launch are invited to purchase a copy of the book for their teens, for themselves, and for their local libraries and schools.


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