Another example of how Mr. Danziger helps his students cope with the repercussions of incarceration.
Beginning of sophomore year of high school, I was enrolled in Mr. Danziger’s English class. Danziger happened to be one of my favorite teachers. He didn’t force us to learn boring things.
He made our class fun, letting us write daily about our day and ourselves. He feels it’s important to write daily, personally, for ourselves. We all go through struggles and have to find some way out of those. My way out was writing.
One day towards the beginning of class, Danziger mentioned a club that he’s in charge of along with his wife. It’s called POPS and it takes place every Wednesday in Danziger’s room. He told us POPS stands for Pain of the Prison System. It’s a club that anyone with a family or friends who have been or are incarcerated is welcome to join.
I started going to POPS with one of my best friends, Katherine. I wanted to support her. At first she wanted to go because her dad has been incarcerated multiple times and she needed to find a place for people to help her cope with the problems that affected her deeply. Katherine needed a place of caring and supportive adults and students.
We all have dark past, not just my best friend, but everyone. Those pasts are like a dark, black cove full of secrets. The unknown and a mystery to most people. Secrets are locked away and never shared. I had those secrets I never shared with anyone but myself, and on paper. I try to make sure I write it all down to release tension and stress.
When the time came to actually attend POPS, Kat asked me to go with her as a supportive best friend. Of course I came along. That Wednesday at lunch when I walked into the room, I wondered how these teens in high school would open up about problems they couldn’t even tell their best friends about. But it was nothing for them. They had a courage I didn’t understand.
And that day my mindset changed.
It was deeper than just opening up about our stories. Pretty soon I was attending the club not only to support Katherine but to support all those people sitting in the room with the guts to open up about their scariest, deepest, real stories. I had mad respect for them all.
I feel emotional and happy about what the club is offering people. Including myself. A friend. A place that feels like home. We have the most comfortable place to be open with everyone without being judged. Whether we are telling stories about drugs or being arrested for a crime, in that room we’re able to tell them.
These are the kinds of stories that are most difficult to tell, but the people of POPS tell their stories, and to me their opening up about their pain is so strong. I look up to these boys and girls who have stories to tell. I have a place that feels like home. POPS with Mr. Danziger and his wife, Amy, probably changed my life. They taught me to feel okay about my dark past. I feel comfortable talking about it now and I’m happy to know I have positive people in my life—the students in POPS who I keep close to my heart.
I have a story in the 2015 POPS Anthology, and I’m proud to be in there along with the other amazing authors of Ghetto By the Sea. We’re only high school authors, but the book leaves an impact on all our lives. There’s a lot still to come.
And I find it crazy how I got here—when Mr. Danziger first told me I could write about anything, positive or negative, it took me a while to think I could do that. I wondered if I could get really personal. Was I ready for people to read a little piece of my life? But then I realized if these other young people could do it, then I could too. And now that feeling of knowing my story is out there for everyone, including strangers, feels good. People I don’t know will know what goes through my mind and how I feel about my past and the near future. When I heard anyone in the world could read our book, I felt content.
Everyone needs to know the importance of what we went through in life as children and teenagers. We have some perks and some not-so-good luck in our lives. But now I pick up my pen and grab my notebook and write away all my thoughts—happy to deep and dark. It’s just me and my writing, and this genuinely keeps me happy, even if I’m not the best writer. I do this for me, and I know it helps me through everything.
A POPS Memoir by Mariana Hernandez
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