When Holly Capps was a sophomore at Samohi her future did not look bright. With a mother in jail and brother in-and-out of the system Capps was traumatized, depressed, socially isolated, and performing poorly in school—until she joined POPS.

The Pain Of the Prison System club turned her life around. It introduced Capps to peers who also had family members in the prison system. It gave her a creative outlet to share her emotions and provided her with a community of friends who related to her struggles and supported her dreams.

By senior year Holly was a rising star. She graduated with honors, a close knit group of friends, and won a Renaissance Award for most improved grades.

“Sophomore year I was not doing well. I was falling into the bad influences around me and getting heavily into drugs and things that I shouldn’t be around. POPS really took me into another direction and I’m eternally grateful to them for that,” said Capps.

POPS was founded by local author and prison rights activist Amy Friedman who started the first club at Venice High School with her husband Dennis Danziger who taught at the school.

The organization now has 17 clubs nationwide with a goal to help the nearly 3 million children in the US who have a parent in prison and are at a higher risk of poverty, poor academic performance, and future incarceration.

The POPS curriculum imparts values of dignity, empowerment, and community through writing, art projects, mindfulness and guest speakers.

“The club really kindled my relationship with poetry,” said Capps. “It was a really therapeutic creativity that allowed me to focus my emotions into something that was not so negative and have a positive creative outcome.”

Every year POPS publishes a collection of students’ work offering them a safe space to share their feelings and support each other’s resilience. This year’s anthology is entitled Dream Catchers and was released on Jan. 14.

The anthologies are put in prison libraries across the country and gives incarcerated individuals a window into what their family members may be experiencing, feeling, and thinking.

Building understanding between prisoners and their family members is part of POPS’s mission to help break the cycle of incarceration.

“POPS really helped me find the patience and understanding to realize that everyone is human and that my mother did her best under the circumstances,” said Capps. “What I see from my fellow peers is that we are capable of understanding our parents’ behavior and learning from their mistakes,” said Capps.

This insight is an important breakthrough as many children are taught that if they have a family member in prison they will likely wind up there too.

“Because of the stigma attached to incarceration, children are often perceived by teachers and administrators as potential prisoners themselves, treated as if they are not worth expending time and energy on because they will only fail,” said Friedman.

POPS preaches empowerment and helps children see their own potential.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from, what background you have, or whether your family is in prison or not,” said Capps. “If you believe in yourself and you give yourself the time of day and the self love that you deserve, you can overcome and do anything.”

For Capps this means pursuing her dream to become a forensic psychologist. She is currently finishing her second year at SMC and preparing to transfer to a four year university to continue her studies.

“I’m interested in working at prisons to help people get to that tomorrow,” said Capps. “We put prisoners in a category, but they are just humans who have made mistakes in their life and they need to be understood.”