Pods: The Building Blocks of
Transformative Justice & Collective Care
Written by Mia Mingus and posted March 16, 2023
When I first wrote about pods in the summer of 2016 for the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective (BATJC), I had no idea how much the concept would become a part of TJ work across the country and beyond. Now, 7 years later, I am excited to offer an updated and expanded version.
I have been inspired by other groups who have adapted the simple pod map template I amateurishly made on Microsoft Word to fit their needs. (It was a relief to know that the many tedious hours I spent squinting at my computer screen, moving around those small circles, were not in vain.) I loved seeing people share their own beautiful hand-drawn pod maps. It has been wonderful to watch the concept of pods be applied in all different kinds of ways, some of which include: navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, assisting incarcerated and formerly incarcerated folks, supporting queer and trans youth, and access for disabled people.
I hope in years to come others will continue to create pod maps for all different types of situations, conditions, relationships and communities.
What follows is everything from the original essay, along with updated and new information, suggestions and examples. This writing and these pod maps have grown out of my work over the years in TJ processes, trainings, lending support to others to address harm and my own personal pod work. The updated basic pod map offers additional helpful features and there are now 4 new pod maps as well. I hope you will find these maps useful in your own pod work and I look forward to working on the next evolution of these maps in years to come.
FRAMING AND CONTEXT
It is important to understand where the concept of pods came from. Though it is now being applied in many different contexts, the concept of “pods” came out of transformative justice work. It was coined in the summer of 2014 by the BATJC, of which I was a founding and core member from 2011-2020. We created the concept of “pods” to refer to a specific type of relationship within TJ work. We needed a term to describe the kind of relationship between people who would turn to each other for support around harmful and violent experiences, whether as survivors, bystanders or people who have caused harm. These would be the people in our lives we would call on to support us with things such as our immediate and on-going safety, accountability and transformation of behaviors, or individual and collective healing and resiliency.
Prior to this, we were using the term “community” when we talked about TJ, but we found that, not surprisingly, many people did not feel connected to a community and, even more so, most people did not know what “community” meant or had wildly different definitions and understandings of community. For some, community was an overarching term that encompassed huge numbers of people based on identity (e.g. “the feminist community”); while for others community referred to a specific set of arbitrary values, practices and/or relationships (e.g. “I don’t know them well, but we’re in community with each other”); or some defined community simply by geographic location, regardless of relationship or identity (e.g. “the Buffalo community”). We found that people romanticized community; or though they felt connected to a community at large, they only had significant and trustworthy relationships with very few actual people who might or might not be part of that community. For example, someone might feel connected to the queer community, but when asked who from that queer community they felt they could trust to show up for them in times of crisis or harm, they could only name 2 or 3 people. Another example would be people of color who had a strong connection to people of color identity and community, but whose strongest and most reliable relationships were with their white partner and white friends.
Although community is a word we use all the time, many people don’t know what it is or never feel they’ve experienced it. This became increasingly confusing as we used terms such as “community accountability” or “community responses to violence” and encouraged people to “turn to their communities.” This became even more complicated in dealing with intimate and sexual violence because the violence, harm and abuse was often coming from their community because most people who experience interpersonal harm are harmed by someone they know. Another common complication is when survivors come forward about harm they’ve experienced and their community turns against them. This is often a result of many things such as rape culture, patriarchy, misogyny, white supremacy, trauma, a culture of punishment and fear.
We needed a different term to describe what we meant, and so, “pods” was suggested and it stuck. This is not to say that the term “community” is not useful—it is, but we wanted to be clear about what we meant and specific in how we were using it. In addition, we needed to create new language for TJ work.
We know that across the board, people who experience violence, harm and abuse turn to their intimate networks before they turn to external state or social services. Most people don’t call the police or seek counseling or even call anonymous hotlines. If they tell anyone at all, they turn to a trusted friend, family member, neighbor or coworker. We wanted a way to name those currently in your life you would rely on (or are relying on) to respond to harm and violence.
WHAT IS A POD?
A pod is a tool to address and prevent harm, violence, emergency or crisis. Pods can also be used to address specific needs and aid in general support. Pods are made up of the people in our lives we can turn to first and rely on. These are the people in our lives who have consented to being there for us either for general or specific purposes.
When we are referring to pods in the context of TJ we are often talking about harm and violence, both how to respond after the fact or in real time, as well as how to prevent or plan for when harm may occur. However, pods can be used in a myriad of different contexts, far beyond acute harm and violence. And it should be noted that even though there may not be acute harm, the mere use of pods and their wide dissemination into many aspects of our lives helps to create the conditions that can lessen both the impact of harm and the likelihood that harm will happen in the first place.
Pods is a simple concept with an endless amount of uses and applications. Pods was a way to make words such as “community” and “support” more concrete and pragmatic. In this way, pods can be relevant to any situation where support is needed. A pod relationship is a specific type of relationship, just like many other common types of relationships such as friend, co-worker, family or neighbor. While none of these relationships are mutually exclusive to each other, the same can be said for pod people. Your pod may include your friends, partners, neighbors or co-workers or it may not. In general though, pod people are often those you have some kind of relationship and trust with, even if it is not the deepest relationship and trust.
What’s more, you can have multiple pods that fulfill different needs. For example, in the context of harm, the people you call to support you when you are being harmed may not be the same people you call to support you when you have done harm, and vice versa.
A pod relationship is distinct unto itself. This kind of relationship is not one we have historically been taught to understand, look for or cultivate. Though some of us may have been taught to look for these individual qualities in our relationships with others, we have not often understood this to be a separate kind of relationship, made from markedly different fabric than others. Pod relationships are key to not only being able to practice transformative justice well, but they are also key to building accountable lives, relationships and communities.
Pods are essential to transformative justice and abolition work because they are a critical building block for creating caring and accountable communities. They are an incredibly effective community condition that, when practiced en masse, could help to significantly bring rates of harm, isolation, punishment, fear and violence down, while concretely putting into practice many of the values we hold most dear: connection, courage, trust, care, compassion, healing, accountability, love and belonging.
We must create what we need: If we are not going to rely on the current violent, dangerous and woefully inadequate systems around us, then that means it is us who will have to be able to respond to harm, violence and crisis. That means it is us and our communities who will need to be able to prevent harm, address acute and active harm in real time, as well as heal and transform past harms that have left an aftermath of destruction and pain in their wake. It is easy to talk about abolition or call for “no prisons and police” in a tweet or on a sign at a protest. It is much harder to do the work to build the kind of community infrastructure that we will need to make those things a reality. Pods is one critical piece of that work.
Getting concrete and relationship-based: Asking people to organize their pod is much more concrete than asking people to organize their community. Now that we have the shared language and concept of a pod, it allows transformative justice to be more accessible. Gone are the fantasies of a giant, magical “community response” filled with people with whom we only have surface-relationships. Instead, we can challenge ourselves and others to build solid pods of people through relationship and trust. In doing so, we are pushed to get specific about what those relationships look like and how they are built. It places relationship-building at the very center of transformative justice work.
Relationship and trust first, then analysis: Relationship and trust, not always political analysis, continue to be two of the most important factors in successful TJ interventions, whether in supporting survivor self-determination and healing, or in accountability processes. Though shared language, values, and political understandings are very useful in responding to violence, these are easier to build where relationship and trust already exist.
Once people start to identify their pod, it often becomes clear that most of the people they would call on are not always political organizers or activists and usually aren’t formally part of movements or movement communities. This holds true even for many political organizers and activists who are mapping their pods. Although many of the people they list may not have “formal” political analysis, training or language, they often possess some of the most important liberatory skills and values needed to practice transformative justice such as: how to show-up well for others, offer forgiveness and grace, truly and holistically love, and how to stay in connection and community through tough times.
Using the language of “pods” is a way to meet people where they are and reveal what is already working in their intimate networks. People already have individuals in their lives they turn to when violence happens (even if it is just one person). So this is where we need to focus our work, instead of trying to build new relationships with strangers who might share a political analysis, but have no personal relationship with each other, let alone trust; we want to build through our relationships and trust. We can then work to support our pod members in cultivating a shared analysis and framework for understanding harm and violence (e.g. domestic and sexual violence, abuse of power, oppression). By building where there are already authentic relationships and trust, rather than trying to piece together surface-level versions, we help to set the conditions for, not only, successful TJ responses, but the likelihood that people will respond to violence at all.
Interdependent and exponential growth: Building our own pods is an individual piece of a collective effort to create a network of pods that can reduce harm and cultivate the things we know prevent harm such as healing, support, care, accountability, connection and trust. If we all work to build our pods, even if they are small, it will have an exponential effect that ripples through our communities. For example, I build my pod of 4 people and each of those 4 people builds their pods of 3 people, and each of those 3 people builds pods of 2-5 people and so on and so on. The potential impact of pod-building is enormous. Hundreds of drops of water forming a river of possibilities. Thousands of tiny microbes creating the conditions for rich and fertile soil.
We must build accountable support: If we want accountable relationships and communities, then we must build the needed support to make that happen. Accountability does not magically happen, it requires practice and support. Accountability is a practice, not a destination. Accountability is not something you are, it is something you do. No one is perfect at accountability. We will all have times where we will fall short by a little or a lot–sometimes a whole lot. What matters is the support we have for such times, so that we can learn and grow from those moments, rather than justify, minimize, or shamefully hide them away.
Creating accountability pods can help us to more effectively practice accountability in our everyday lives or in acute instances of harm. Typically, people have less people in their lives they can call on to take accountability for harm they’ve done than harm that happened to them. This is common because of the punitive culture we live in, which teaches us that only “bad people do bad things,” so if someone does something harmful they must be a bad person who is incapable of change. In addition, harm makes us uncomfortable because it often kicks up the places inside of us that we do not want to face or address. And because of that we genuinely don’t know what to do when harm happens, so we distance ourselves from the situations and people we deem harmful, toxic or just plain uncomfortable.
Though competent support for surviving violence is far from perfect and not readily available or accessible to everyone who needs it, we have found that support for someone taking accountability for harm they have done is even harder to find. More often than not, people end up colluding with abusers or reinforcing the shaming and blaming of survivors in their attempt to support someone in taking accountability for harm, if they stay in relationship with them at all. We must build the skills to not only be able to practice accountability ourselves, but to be able to support others in their accountability as well.
TJ requires people: When we think about TJ processes, we often do not think about the people-power necessary to carry them out. You need community members, ideally those with some kind of trusting relationship to those directly impacted and those who caused the harm. I speak from experience when I say that it is more often than not hard to find these kinds of people. In most of the TJ processes I have been part of, people did not have pod people they could call on to support them inside of the process and so we were often pulling in community members they did not know or only had surface relationships with. This meant that we were working to address harm while simultaneously working to build the relationship and trust needed to transform harm. This is always a heavy lift. The TJ processes where people already had pods were not only much more successful and effective, it also meant that we didn’t have to do that extra relationship-building work and could instead focus our time and energy on other much-needed things.
A strong web of support: There are many people who do not have any pod people. This is a very real reality for many people, especially oppressed and isolated communities/individuals because of how capitalism, oppression and violence shape our lives. For example, many disabled people are extremely isolated because of lack of accessibility and resources; many immigrant women of color are isolated because of language or documentation; adults and children who are surviving current abuse such as domestic violence may be isolated by their abusers. We hope that by beginning to build and grow our pods, we can help build the conditions to be able to support people who do not have a pod. By growing the number of people who can recognize, talk about, prevent and respond to violence, we hope to make it that much more likely that people in need of support will find it in their daily lives. We also believe that orienting from a place of growing pods can help us gradually move away from the structures that keep people isolated and vulnerable. In this way, building our pods is not only useful for ourselves and the people in our immediate circles, but has the potential to help build a network of pods that could support anyone experiencing violence.
We see building our pods as a concrete way to prepare and build resources for transformative justice in our communities. Building pods is also a way to practice and cultivate liberation through values such as care, support, healing, accountability, community, love, interdependence, repair, belonging, trust, courage and possibility. Pods invites us into a more connected way of living that resists isolation, fear and hopelessness, some of the many factors that allow for harm to occur. If everyone had a pod, imagine how much more resourced and supported we would all be. Imagine how much more accountable and brave we might attempt to be. Imagine what could be possible inside of our communities, neighborhoods, cities and movements for justice.
EXAMPLES OF PODS
There are an endless number of ways to use pods. What follows are some examples, but please note: this is not an exhaustive list and none of these examples are mutually exclusive.
Everyday TJ: These pods are the most basic, important and foundational pods. Everyday TJ pods can help to reduce and prevent harm, aid in healing and comfort, as well as build some of the conditions needed to be able to effectively respond to harm, if it occurs (e.g. relationship and trust, familiarity, understanding, compassion, accountability, vulnerability).
A general pod is the most common kind of pod. These are the main people who will be there for you in times of need. This includes if you experience harm or violence, emergency or crisis. They may also support your general and everyday TJ work to, for example, stay in alignment with your values or invest in your own healing, happiness and wellbeing. They may also support any number of everyday needs you have, such as access, childcare, emotional support or transportation. Most of us have these types of people already in our lives, even if it is just one or two people.
Working to build one general pod is the perfect place to begin pod-building. Most people have one general pod.
A direct impact pod is a pod specifically for when you have been directly impacted by a challenging situation (e.g. having a terrible boss, a difficult moment of conflict with a loved one, not getting a job you applied for), as well as if you experienced low-level harm. This pod would have your back and is explicitly committed to supporting you when hard or harmful things happen to you. This pod could also be there for you during big life moments and transitions such as loss, death, pregnancy, losing a job, losing housing or illness.
An accountability pod is made up of people who will support you in your general, everyday accountability. You may engage in conversations about the concept of accountability with them, as well as talk about the things that impact your own accountability such as times when you were not accountable or times when you were, as well as patterns in your life that do and don’t support your accountability. Your accountability pod should be a safe space where you can be vulnerable and talk about your fears, shame, insecurities and trauma. You should be able to receive and give feedback to each other, as well as seek support around specific instances of accountability that come up. For example, you may need and want to apologize to someone in your life, but are feeling nervous. You could work on and practice the apology with your accountability pod beforehand. Everyone should have an accountability pod, even if it is just one person in your life with whom you can talk about your own accountability.
A local pod is made up of people in your geographic area who are committed to supporting you if you have an emergency, crisis or general needs such as getting to the doctor, supporting your access needs, as well as bringing over and helping to cook food. Local pods are incredibly important to have, even if they are only made up of one person, so that you have someone in your city, town or neighborhood who can support you in real time.
Since most of us have people who have our backs when something happens to us, I would also encourage everyone to have an accountability pod and a local pod, even if each consists of just one person.
Responding to Violence: The concept of pods was originally created to be able to respond to and prevent harm and violence in the context of transformative justice. To be able to generatively and effectively respond to and prevent harm, we need support. We cannot do it alone. The role of pod people in transformative justice work cannot be overstated. Pods are essential to transformative justice.
When harm and violence happen:
A survivor pod is made up of people who are there to support you in your healing, safety, survival and resilience as someone who has survived harm and or violence. They could be people who are committed to help support you through a volatile situation or help get you out of an abusive relationship. They may lend support to help you find a therapist or healer or make sure you attend your appointments. They may assist you with your medical care for physical healing of wounds or STIs. They may take turns sleeping on your couch so you don’t have to be in your house alone at night. Or they may bring over food to stock your fridge and freezer when you are going through another bout of depression years later. Some of them may also support you through or inside of a TJ process* in which you were the survivor or person most directly impacted. They are the people who believe in your ability to heal and recognize your humanity.
A harmer pod is made up of people whose purpose is to support your accountability regarding a specific incident of harm you have caused (e.g. sexual misconduct, violence, abuse). They may support you through your work to understand what accountability is and identify and understand the harm you’ve caused. They may help you craft a heart-felt, genuine apology or assist you in the long and winding road of repair and making amends. They should push you to grow in a firm, compassionate, but not punitive, manner. They may share examples about times they were able to take accountability for themselves or times they weren’t. They may assist you in changing your behavior so that you do not cause the same kind of harm again. They may also be some of the people who are part of supporting you through or inside of a TJ accountability process*, in which you were the harmer. They are the people who believe in your ability to change and recognize your humanity, without minimizing the harm you have caused or its impacts. They are the people who know that you are and can do better and they are invested in your wellbeing. They are the people who will not let you run away from yourself.
A bystander pod is made up of people whose purpose is to support you as someone who was a witness to the harm or violence. Some bystanders may need support in their healing, safety, survival and resilience from the impact or trauma of witnessing harm and violence. These pods may function similarly to a survivor pod, as secondary trauma is incredibly real and harmful. This is especially true if the bystanders are minors. Other bystanders may need support in their accountability for harm they allowed to happen or colluded in. Those pods may function similarly to a harmer pod. Either way, some of these pod members may support the bystander(s) through or inside of a TJ process*.
*A note to clarify terminology: I use the term “team,” in the context of TJ processes where we establish a Survivor Support Team (SST) and an Accountability Support Team (AST). This is because most people, whether as the survivor or the harmer, do not have pod people they can call on to be part of a process or their pod people may not have the capacity to be part of a process. Because of this we end up having to use people they do not know or only have surface relationships with. Sometimes a survivor or harmer may have a pod person who is able to be part of the SST or AST, but we will usually still need to have another person or two. It is also useful to differentiate between “pod” and “team” because often in the TJ processes that I lead, one of the goals within the SST and AST, is to help the survivor or harmer build their own pods, respectively, that can support them long after the process is over.
More Examples of How Pods Can Be Used: Again, remember none of these examples (below or above) are mutually exclusive.
Privilege and Oppression Pods: Pods based around our places of privilege and oppression can be very useful. For those addressing their privilege, forming a pod with others who are doing the same (e.g. abled people committed to working on their abled privilege and how they can support disabled communities and work), can help to ensure that you are actively doing said work and that it is moving forward. It can not only help to keep you accountable, but can also be a place for questions and shared learning.
Pods to support those surviving oppression and marginalization can be life saving (e.g. having a pod of fellow immunocompromised and high risk people during the on-going COVID-19 pandemic who can support each other around isolation, safety practices and dealing with unsupportive loved ones and community). These kinds of pods can meet consistently and provide a space to vent, cry, gain validation and laugh, as well as provide material support and camaraderie to each other.
Pods for Children and Youth: This is one of my favorite ways to use pods. Children and youth are growing up in incredibly tumultuous times from mass school shootings to social media to climate change. Creating pods for children is a concrete way to help build safety by either preventing harm or violence, or stopping harm in its early stages, so it doesn't escalate.
If you are raising children and they are too young to create their own pod, you can create one for them filled with adults they can turn to if they ever need support, help, do something hurtful or harmful, or even if they just have questions they want to ask someone who is not their parent. If your children are old enough to understand what a pod is, you can help them think through who could be in their pod. They could have a friend pod in addition to a pod of adults to support them.
The same guidelines apply as with creating any pod. The people in a child’s pod should have some kind of relationship and trust with them (or they can take the time to build them together). You should get consent from anyone you are asking to be in your child’s pod and have explicit conversations about what it means, including what your needs and boundaries are, so they are able to practice informed consent.
You can talk with children about pods in age appropriate ways. For example, you can let them know that your friend Yahaira is someone they can always go and talk to if they need. Yahaira can do the same and engage with them whenever she is around. As is often the case with children, you both may have to do this many times before it takes, but the work to plant the seeds is worth it.
If you are part of a child’s or youth’s pod, it is good to talk to them, but it is even better to set an example by modeling, in addition to talking. You can, in age appropriate ways of course, share about times you made mistakes, were embarrassed, felt alone or were afraid to tell the truth. You can share about times you were hurt, angry, teased at school or apologized to someone you cared about.
The goal of building pods for kids is to build the conditions that support their wellbeing such as trusting relationships, resilience, care, compassion, consent, agency, safety and loving relationships with adults outside of their parents or primary care takers.
Even if we are not in a child’s pod, building and growing our own pods helps us to build the conditions for TJ, which supports children and youth as well. Furthermore, building and growing our pods helps us to build where children already are, since children often cannot, nor should they be expected to, address harm and violence they are experiencing on their own. It is our responsibility as adults to care for and protect children and youth and to build a world that does so as well. All of us have children or youth in our lives in some way, even if it is just the kid down the apartment complex hallway that waves at you on your way to and from work. The more we can grow our own pods and have conversations about protecting and supporting the children and youth in our lives, the better prepared we will be to respond to common forms of harm and violence children and youth face in our communities (e.g. bullying, exclusion, body shaming, child abuse including neglect, sexual violence and abuse).
Emergency/Crisis Pods: Pods can be an important part of emergency or crisis preparation. Establishing a pod for things such as a natural disaster, power outage or pandemic before they happen can help to lessen panic and chaos. Having a pod that you make a safety plan with in the event of a fire, tornado, hurricane or earthquake can ensure that you have things such as supplies, a safe place to go and access to food and water. Many people built pandemic pods at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to help with things such as grocery shopping, checking in on elders, high-risk neighbors and loved ones, and being able to socialize with others in a safe way. Emergency and crisis are a place where local pod people can be especially critical.
Life Events or Transitions Pods: You may have pods that are not ongoing, but whose purpose is to support a particular moment in time such as a death or loss, pregnancy or birth, or moving. Forming these kinds of care pods for yourself or for others can allow them to focus and be present with themselves and their family, knowing that they have a solid pod of people looking out for them.
Work Pods: Work pods can help to support you with challenges or harm in your work world, as well as things such as your own growth, accountability and support regarding your work. They may consist strictly of people from your work life or also include those from your personal life. Either way, work pods can be very useful in a number of different situations. You might form accountability work pods to support developing accountability knowledge and skills in your organization, company, field, sector, coalition or movement. Having a work pod that is distinct from your personal pod can be very helpful, especially because our work and personal lives impact each other all the time. There may be times when you need both. For example, you may have caused harm in your organization and your work pod, made up of fellow staff members, may be meeting with you to help address what happened. A big condition of the harm caused could be the stress you have been under for the past 6 months in your personal life, deciding to separate from your partner of 12 years with whom you have 2 children. This is where your personal pod could swing into gear as well. Another example could be if you are in an abusive relationship and your partner has started to harass you at your job.
Particularly in movement work, you might have many more people who understand transformative justice in your work life, than in your personal life. Or your organization might be working to incorporate TJ into its work or your organization might be trying to address harm using transformative justice. In all of these examples, having a pod at work, either in your organization or with fellow comrades and colleagues outside of your organization, could help lend much needed support.
Needs-Based Pods: Needs-based pods can help to support specific kinds of needs. Examples include: accessibility, transportation, childcare, sharing of resources (e.g. growing and cooking food). Perhaps you have a robust childcare pod of 6 families and each weekend all the kids go to one family’s home for a sleepover, giving the other parents a night and morning off. Or maybe you are in a pod of 5 people who all share a car because each of you could not afford to have a car on your own. You take turns using the car, try to combine errands whenever possible and also help out others who do not have access to a car. Another example could be if you are disabled and need to form a pod to support your access needs. You may have a pod of 4 people you can call on, with whom you have access intimacy, to support you in attending events, going to the doctor or help with cooking.
Pod-building Pods: Pod-building pods are an excellent way to support each other in our work to build pods. Pod work is challenging and takes time. It can be difficult to stay motivated and remember to consistently engage in pod work. Setting up a time to meet 2-3 times a year (or whatever works for your pod) to check in on how your pod-building is going can be very helpful. You can share what’s working and not working for you, get advice or inspiration.
POD MAPPING BASICS
Now that you understand what a pod is and why pods are important, it is time to map and build your pod(s).
Here is a step-by-step overview:
If you are new to pod mapping, begin with mapping a general pod for yourself using the original pod map. You can also decide to create a pod for a more specific need or reason, as mentioned in Examples of Pods.
Start to identify who your pod members are, remembering that it is okay if you only have 1-2 people. (Refer to the Building Your Pod section on criteria, if needed.)
Following the instructions for the original pod map, begin to fill out your map with pod members, movable people and resources. (It may also help to utilize the Skills and Needs Pod Map here to think through what each of your pod members brings to the table.)
Reach out to your pod members and ask them to be part of your pod. (For more on this, see the Consent section of Building Your Pod.)
Decide with your pod members how often you will meet and how you would like to stay in communication.
Meet with your pod and work to deepen and build relationships, trust, knowledge and skills, if applicable.
Work to grow your pod by moving your movable people into your pod via things such as building more relationship or trust with them, having conversations about TJ (or whatever the purpose of your pod is), sharing about the concept of pods with them, etc.
Check on your progress from time to time and continue to deepen and grow your pod. (It can be very useful to have support in pod work, as was mentioned in the Pod-Building Pods section of Examples of Pods.)
MAPPING YOUR POD
As you map your pod (instructions are included for each worksheet), remember that it is normal to not have very many people in your pod. Most people have few solid, dependable relationships in their lives. Much of this is from the breaking of relationships that capitalism relies on. For many people, mapping their pod is a sobering process, as many assume their pod will be larger than it actually is. It is not uncommon for most people to have 1 or 2 people in their pod. This is not a popularity contest, but rather a chance to reflect on why we have so few relationships with the kind of deep trust, reliability and connection we need to be able to respond well to harm, violence and other challenging situations.
You may be surprised at what comes up for you as you map your pod. Be gentle with yourself. This is not about shame or guilt, but rather a chance to take stock. It may help to think of mapping your pod as a purely descriptive assessment or audit, free of judgment. It is meant to help you get a lay of the land, so that you know where to focus your time and energy in your pod work.
Consider mapping your pod with a friend so that you can debrief the process together and talk about the things that came up for you. Consider sharing about your fears or nervousness with each other before you map your pod as well.
Ultimately, we engage in pod work so that we can better our lives and community in the short term, while building a world free of generational cycles of harm, grounded in caring relationships, healing, accountability, and justice in the long term. Mapping and building your pods as an individual is an essential part of our collective work for liberation. If we think about it in those terms, then we can tap into our shared hopes, interdependence and desires.
BUILDING YOUR POD
There is no one way to build your pods. However, below are some more important factors to keep in mind:
Criteria: You get to decide how many pods you have and the criteria for those pods. Each of your pods may have different criteria just as different people may have different criteria for their pods. No two people’s pod criteria will be the same. Your criteria should focus on your needs and things such as your particular situation, experience, location or history. The conditions you are in may also affect your criteria and who you choose to be in your pod. For example, if you are in an abusive relationship and your partner has successfully isolated you from others, who you may turn to might look very different than prior to that relationship when you had a large, vibrant circle of friends, family and community you were in regular connection with.
Pod people don’t fall neatly along traditional lines, especially in situations of intimate and sexual violence. People don’t necessarily turn to their closest relationships, because this is often where the harm and violence is coming from. Also the criteria we would use for our pod people is not necessarily the same as what we use (or get taught to use) for our general intimate relationships. We have different and specific kinds of relationships with our pod people, often in addition to relationship and trust, they involve a combination of characteristics including, but not limited to: a track record of generative conflict; boundaries; being able to give and receive feedback; reliability. These are characteristics and skills that we are not readily taught to value in U.S. society and don’t usually have the skillset to support in even our closest relationships.
Quality over Quantity: As you build your pod, remember that quality is more valuable than quantity. Having 1-2 reliable and caring people in your pod is better than having 5-6 inconsistent people. In pod work, we measure our success by the quality of our relationships with one another and we invest in the time it takes to build things like trust, respect, vulnerability, accountability, care and love. The quality of your relationships will better determine how effectively you and your pod can respond to harm, violence, emergency, crisis, need and change.
Consent: You should get consent from those you ask to be part of your pod. It should be like any other consent: explicit and enthusiastic. You should practice direct communication and informed consent with everyone you invite, so they know what they are entering into. You should be clear about what you want from your pod, what the expectations are and what kind of pod it is. Whoever you ask may or may not ask you to be part of their pod. Being part of someone’s pod does not have to be mutual. There should never be any pressure or coercion to be part of someone’s pod. If someone is asking you to be part of their pod, you should think realistically about your capacity and ask the needed questions so you can make an informed decision. This is especially true for those who are in multiple pods. Never put people in your pod without their explicit consent.
Consistency: Once you have asked people to be in your pod, the next step is to build and deepen your pod relationships, knowledge and skills. This happens through consistency. It is common for many people to not move past asking people to join their pod. If this is you, don’t worry, you can (re)start your pod work at any time. Pod work takes time and is not done overnight. One of the easiest ways to practice consistency is to make recurring times to meet with your pod and/or individual pod people. Digital calendars make this especially easy to do. Depending on the purpose of your pod, you may want to meet with your pod once a quarter, every month or every other week. It is important to stay connected, not only socially, but also specifically related to pod work. In addition to deciding how often you would like to meet, it is helpful to decide how you want to communicate (e.g. text, email, social media messages, phone) and stay in touch with each other (e.g. frequency of communication, communication needs/boundaries, subject matters).
Here are some suggestions of things you can do with your pod when you meet:
Talk about the purpose of your pod. For example, if you are part of a mutual childcare pod, you can talk about all things related to childcare and the specifics of the childcare needs you are podding up to address. You could talk about how you each understand and orient to childcare, what your childcare values and needs are, as well as what you can offer and where you need support. Another example could be a collective care access pod for a disabled elder. The elder could share what they need and pod members could share what they are able to contribute and their capacity to do so. The elder might also share about their experiences with access and disability, which could prompt a rich and on-going discussion about disability justice, ageism and access intimacy. This pod might set goals they would like to work towards, including finding more people to be part of the pod.
Read essays/books, watch videos or listen to podcasts about or related to your pod (e.g. transformative justice, abolition, accountability) and talk about them together.
Attend educational events, workshops and trainings together. This can be especially helpful in building skills together. Perhaps there is a training being offered on how to create a safety plan or how to give and receive feedback. Or maybe there is a panel on abolition, trans liberation or supporting survivors being offered. If some of your pod don’t know what transformative justice is, attend a community training on it and have a conversation with them after.
Share stories together. This can be especially useful in accountability pods, where everyone shares stories about how accountability has or hasn't shown up in their lives, times when they were or were not able to be accountable, what they learned about accountability growing up, and what gets in the way of their accountability. This can also be useful in other kinds of pods as well. Perhaps you are part of a pod to address class privilege and wealth redistribution, sharing stories about your class/wealth privilege and backgrounds could be a powerful tool to build connection and trust, while combating shame and secrecy, thereby creating possibilities to make different choices and be more accountable.
Share your values with each other. Often we do not talk about our values with those in our lives and most people probably have never sat down and written out what their values are. Having conversations about the values that are most important in your life can be a great way to not only figure out what your values actually are, but also learn a lot more about people and what matters most to them and why. It is also a wonderful way to begin to talk about what your shared values are, both in your pod or in your relationship together (e.g. friendship, neighbor, coworker, partner, family member).
Address things that are currently coming up in your lives that pertain to your pod. If you are part of a pod to support each other’s parenting, you can take turns sharing how your parenting is going or what is going on with your kids, partners, schools, families, etc. If you are part of a pod to work on your cis privilege, you may take turns sharing about how your cis privilege has been showing up since the last time you met as a pod or what you have been doing to support trans people and trans liberation work. If you are part of a pod to support healing from an abusive relationship, you may share about how your healing has been going, whether or not you have finally taken the first step to find a therapist, or your work to hold boundaries with unsupportive family and friends.
Connection: I am commonly asked if pod members of the same pod should all be connected to each other or if it is okay that they don’t know each other. There is no hard and fast rule for this since all pods are different and exist within different kinds of conditions and communities. In general though, I do lean towards at least a small amount of connection, when appropriate. For example, you could make sure they all have each other’s phone numbers in case of an emergency. It can also be beneficial for your pod people to meet each other and stay connected so that they can better support you. In the case of an accountability pod, it can aid accountability support if the pod members can share their observations with each other or gain support from one another on how best to support you. If you are part of a child’s pod, it can be very useful for all the adults to be able to share and strategize how they can best lend support with whatever current issue the child is dealing with, so that they are all on the same page. Connecting your pod people can also be a way to build collective care and accountability.
Courage: In the end there is no magic bullet for building your pod. Yes, you can prepare and get support, but at the end of the day you have to take a deep breath, dive in and begin to have conversations and extend an invitation. Pods invite us to practice more intentional ways of being with each other and, for many of us, we may be engaging muscles we are not used to using. It may seem awkward and uncomfortable at first, as any new practices are. We may feel clunky and discouraged, wanting to fall back into old, default practices that are more familiar. It can be scary to venture into conversations about TJ, accountability, abolition, punishment or the police with people in your life for the first time. It is vulnerable to share your point of view, your needs or ask for support. None of these things are easy and require risk. Pod work often requires that we share more about who we are and what matters most to us with those in our life. Pod work pushes us to intentionally build relationships and asks us to practice things such as courage and vulnerability.
Upkeep and Progress Checks: As you continue building and growing your pods, it is a good idea to check-in on how it is going with regular progress checks. Gaining support from others building their pods can be very helpful in doing this, as mentioned in the example of pod-building pods. Your pod(s) may shift over time, as your needs or relationships shift or as people’s geographic location shifts. Someone in your local pod may move away or you may have a falling out with a pod member. Regular assessment of your pods can help you stay informed about the state of your pods and relationships in your life. Often we don’t pay attention to our relationships until something challenging happens. Regular progress checks can help you proactively build and tend to your pods, rather than only reacting or being chaotically caught off guard in the moment when you need your pod the most.
Another benefit to regular pod upkeep is working to actively grow the number of people in your pod, which is an important part of pod work. Growing one’s pod is not easy and may take time. Continuing to proactively build supportive and accountable relationships in our lives makes it so that when we are facing hardships, we will have reliable people in our lives we can turn to.
POD MAP WORKSHEETS
Below are links to 5 pod mapping worksheets, all free to download. Click on the link or image of each map in order to download and print, as well as access instructions and examples. If you have never mapped your pod before, I recommend starting with the first map. If you are familiar with pod mapping and already have a pod, I recommend trying the subsequent maps, especially if you have multiple pods. There is a map dedicated to thinking through skills, within your pod. This map is useful, no matter what your familiarity is with pods and pod mapping.