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Theatre Programming in a Women’s Prison in Durban, South Africa

19 Aug

I’m in Rio de Janeiro with my University of Michigan students but trying to catch up on blogging about my South Africa trip before I launch into our adventures in Brazil. More to come soon.

Durban is a lovely beach town.

Durban is a lovely beach town. Since I couldn’t take pictures of the prison, this will have to do for an illustration.

Durban, South Africa is a beautiful seaside town–not exactly the place where you’d expect to find an enormous complex of prisons known as the Westville Correctional Facility. Andy and I were introduced to both Durban and Westville by Miranda Young-Jahangeer, a professor of drama and performance studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Miranda has been doing theatre work inside Westville for the past fourteen years. She’s worked with men and youth at the prison at different times, but she prefers to work with incarcerated women and has focused on them throughout most of her time at Westville.

Miranda drove us about twenty minutes outside of Durban to the prison.  Separate men’s and women’s prisons as well as youth facilities can be found inside the fences of the Westville complex, as can several rows of apartments for prison staff members and their families. One staff person told us that she chose to live inside the gates of the prison because the facility provides bus service for her child to attend the local school. She had lived somewhere outside the prison walls but had chosen to move into the staff housing in the prison complex for reasons of convenience, despite the fact that she does not like her job.

The guard at the main gate to the prison knew Miranda, and she signed a register before we drove through the entrance to the facility. The prison complex is vast, and we did not even come close to seeing all of it. Miranda parked near the women’s prison, and when we entered the building, we each signed a sheet at the front desk. We did not show identification, answer any questions, or get patted down. A guard gave visitors’  badges to me and Miranda (but not Andy because apparently men don’t need them at the women’s prison), unlocked a metal gate, and let us into the prison. Everyone there seemed to know Miranda, and undoubtedly her long relationship with this particular prison made entering it far easier than it would be for other people. In Michigan prisons, even when we know the staff well, my students and I still face some pretty significant security measures–advance security clearance, identification, metal detectors, pat downs, lots of questions about our plans for the day. It felt very odd to be able to gain access to a prison so easily in a country so vigilant about security. Miranda reminded me that the folks who run prisons in South Africa can be every bit as capricious and changeable as their U.S. counterparts. Prison authorities at Westville have have moved or cancelled performances and activities at the last minute, and Miranda has seen other groups try unsuccessfully to gain access to this facility which she and her students enter with relative ease. Prisons are nothing if not full of contradictions.

A prison staff member named Veli has worked with Miranda for many years, helping to set up the theatre workshops inside the facility. Veli’s brother had held the same position at this prison, and when he passed away, she took his place. When I asked Veli if it had taken time to build a solid working relationship with Miranda, she said that took up right where her brother left off. He had had a positive relationship with Miranda and her work in the prison, and Veli saw no reason to feel differently. Veli and Miranda led us up a flight of stairs and into a small activities room with several desks with sewing machines on them. The theatre workshop is on hiatus for a few weeks but will start up again in late August or early September. Unfortunately our travel schedule wouldn’t permit us to make the trip during a time when we could see the workshop in action. Instead we had a conversation with Miranda, Veli, and one of the incarcerated women (whom I’ll call P.) who has been doing theatre in the prison for nearly all of the fourteen years Miranda has been facilitating workshops there.

When P. came into the room, she greeted each of us with big hugs, and I was startled at how comfortable she felt in doing that, particularly with Andy–a man she’d never met. In the U.S. physical contact is strictly monitored, particularly between visitors and prisoners and between people of opposite genders. Often women in prison do not feel especially safe around men, and in the U.S. it would be even more unlikely for a prisoner and visitor to have physical contact with a prison staff person in the room. We didn’t see any male staff members working at the women’s prison, and Miranda tells me that very few male staff work there. That might explain the apparent lack of restrictions on physical touch. However, Miranda also reports that the number of incarcerated women in South Africa who report having been sexually or physically abused is above the global average, which hovers around 80%. This refers to abuse incurred prior to incarceration. I would assume that the predominantly single gender environment in female prisons in South Africa greatly reduces the amount of sexual abuse that women endure during incarceration. After reading an early draft of this blog post, Miranda also noted that P.’s hugging is a cultural signifier of her role as an older woman in the prison, a mother figure. A younger woman would not have hugged us so effortlessly, but P. did so as a way of showing that she trusts us and that we are welcome in her space.

The three of them–Miranda, Veli, and P.–asked about our work and why we were interested in theatre in prisons, and then they told us about some of the workshops and performances they have done together. Miranda teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses in which students come into the prison to do theatre work. Her students will sometimes develop a performance of their own for the prisoners as a way of starting a conversation about a relevant social issue. At other times, the students work with the prisoners to devise an original performance–sometimes in response to the performance the students brought into the prison.

P. loves to sing, and music is an integral part of each performance. Most South African prisons have a choir inside them, and once a year the national Correctional Services will pay to bring the incarcerated choirs from across the country to the same prison to have a choral competition. This astounded me. The only time that I’ve ever heard of prisoners going from one institution to another to perform in the U.S. was for a huge play called The Life of Jesus Christ at Angola prison in Louisiana. For that production, which in recent years has been revived once or twice a year, women from a prison a few towns away are brought to Angola to rehearse and perform in this enormous passion play. That only requires coordination between two prisons.  I can’t imagine what a logistical feat it must be to move incarcerated choirs (presumably men and women) from all corners of South Africa to a single location for a competition. A 2007 documentary film called The Choir follows one group of prisoners to the National Prison Choir Competition.  I haven’t seen the film (if anyone knows how to acquire a copy, I’d be grateful for the information), but I’d love to see both the film and the actual competition itself some day.

Apparently most of the theatre work that these folks have done together in Westville has dealt with social issues of one kind or another, including HIV/AIDS, gender discrimination, and the poor treatment of prisoners. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, this is not a thing we can do in most of the U.S. because prison administrators feel that any critique of the system could lead to unrest or violence amongst the prison population. This does not seem to be the case in South Africa–or at least not in the work of theatre folks and prisoners I met. I was trying to explain to Miranda, Veli, and P. that we can’t even mention prison guards in our plays, and Veli said that if they couldn’t make fun of the guards, they wouldn’t have ever a play.  Mocking the guards has been a major point of comic relief in their productions, and for the most part the guards don’t seem to mind.

In one notable production the women in the prison were responding to the terrible conditions at the prison clinic. The AIDS epidemic was claiming many lives, and often the bodies of prisoners remained in beds at the clinic for days before being removed for burial. This meant that other women confined to the clinic would have to lay for days on end next to the dead bodies of their friends. The play that the women devised about this situation included a character of a particularly unkind nurse in the clinic, and Miranda didn’t realize until the performance of the play that the nurse in question was not only a real person but was being represented in such a way that she was totally recognizable to the entire prison audience. The nurse was in the audience of the performance along with 250 incarcerated women, and at some point during the play, the nurse got up and fled the courtyard where the play was taking place. As the nurse ran away, the women in the audience all raised their arms above their head and shouted “la la la la la,” mocking her in unison. In a bizarre twist of fate, that same nurse ended up becoming a prisoner at Westville sometime later, and she joined the theatre group and became a much-beloved member of the troupe.

A performance like this would have shut down a prison theatre program in the U.S., but seemingly the only enduring consequence of this at Westville is that the audiences for the group’s plays are now much smaller. Big gatherings of the entire prison population for the sake of a performance are no longer possible, but the theatre group endures.

In thinking about the theatre work at Westville, I’m struck by how much national context and culture matter in terms of what is and is not permissible inside prisons. The legacy of Apartheid in South Africa has left people throughout the country with a publicly acknowledged sense that prisons often enforce the unjust whims of the government. In the U.S. we tend to defend our own sense of righteousness and see prisons as one part of the long arm of justice, believing that the people inside them brought all the negative aspects of their confinement upon themselves. During our trip, someone in South Africa told me that everyone in the country knows someone in prison or someone who was incarcerated at some point. South Africa has the highest incarceration rate in the continent, but the U.S. has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world. Yet most of the folks I meet in my own country genuinely believe that they have never known someone who served time. This can’t possibly be true of the majority of us, but the cultural silence and stigmas surrounding incarceration prevent us from having meaningful conversations about it. South Africans continue to struggle with myriad social problems, including mass incarceration, but their ability to speak openly about this particular type of injustice is one of the things that made it possible for a former prisoner to become president and lead the country into a new era of democracy. This ability to acknowledge the problem of mass incarceration fueled by racism has certainly not led to greater justice or a significant reduction in the prison population, but I can’t help feeling like the ability to name and discuss this issue has to be a step in the right direction. How can we move towards a higher form of justice unless we can honestly describe both the world in which we now live and–to paraphrase Ghandi–the change we would like to see in our lives.

Constitution Hill in Johannesburg

31 Jul

Andy and I have traveled onward to Pretoria, South Africa because last night we saw Mating Birds by Lewis Nkosi– a prison-themed play at the State Theater. You’ll get the full report on that in a later post.


Here I am in part of the Old Fort section of the Constitution Hill prison in front of what looked like a little guard house.

Here I am in part of the Old Fort section of the Constitution Hill prison in front of what looked like a little guard house.

My last post introduced our trip to Constitution Hill, but I didn’t have the energy last night to finish the story or to convey how incredibly moving our trip to the former prison was. In a room just off the Visitor’s Center of the museum, a short film provides an introduction to the prison. The opening of the film shows formerly incarcerated men and women returning to Constitution Hill to visit the place where they had endured years of deprivation, humiliation, and even torture. The film asserts that in coming back to the prison, these people are “reclaiming their dignity.” Just as the museum serves to remind all visitors of South Africa’s troubled past, the formerly incarcerated are living evidence that such struggles are neither forgotten nor distant from the present day.

South Africa is currently celebrating twenty years since the fall of Apartheid in 1994–often labeled as “twenty years of democracy” in a number of tee shirts and banners that we’ve seen since our arrival here. The legacies of colonialism, segregation, and brutal oppression remain apparent here, as they do in my own country, and the divides created by this history are nowhere more apparent (in any country) than inside prisons. During Apartheid and in the present, blacks were and are incarcerated at disproportionate rates to their white counterparts (as has long been and remains the case in my country), and at Constitution Hill one can see quite clearly that blacks filled a far greater part of the prison and that whites had significantly superior living conditions.

Blanket sculptures of black male prisoners sleeping.

Blanket sculptures of black male prisoners sleeping.

We saw the black men’s section of the prison first. Despite the fact that some of the prison’s buildings no longer stand, we saw room after cement room where men slept like sardines in a can.  They had only blankets or thin pallets on which to sleep, and they were forced to sleep so close together that each man’s head was wedged between two sets of other people’s feet. An open toilet stands in the corner of each of these rooms, and the poorest and weakest men had to sleep nearest to the stench of the sewer. The museum has allowed the peeling paint, cold walls and floor to speak for themselves, adding little more than a few tasteful signs to help explain how the rooms were inhabited. Rough gray prison blankets with a few white stripes at each end have been made into skillfully constructed “blanket sculptures” to show where the bodies of the prisoners would have lain at night. These stand ins for actual people prove not only more artistic but also more moving than the tacky mannequins that dwell in so many museum tableaus. Constitution Hill prisoners actually made these sorts of blanket sculptures during their incarceration.  They also engaged in paper maché and other forms of sculpture.  The blanket sculptures on display at Constitution Hill’s museum today were made by two formerly incarcerated men who returned to contribute to this part of the museum.

100_1976Such evidence of participation by former prisoners in the curation of the museum appears throughout the many exhibits on Constitution Hill, as do opportunities for visitors to respond to what they are seeing. Message boards appear throughout the exhibits, posing specific questions to visitors and encouraging them to share their thoughts about things like whether the people described in the exhibit were unjustly imprisoned or what Ghandi’s most significant legacy to South Africa might be. The notion that visitors’ active participation in the museum, indeed in South Africa’s ongoing history, falls in line with the objectives of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s efforts to capture the experiences of everyday people alongside the largest events in South African civil unrest. Most of the visitors’ comments I read throughout Constitution Hill expressed gratitude for the museum itself and for the opportunity to learn about and share in the history recorded there.

Constitution Hill had quite a few isolation cells throughout its many buildings. In the white male section of the prison, the isolation cells had a small desk bolted to the wall and wooden floors. Nowhere in the prison did we see a bed. It seems that everyone slept on pallets or the gray wool blankets on the floor. The white prisoners’ isolation cells were stark and intimidating, even though they were about twice as large as the isolation cells for black men and women. I couldn’t help wondering what those slight differences would mean to a captive.  How much comfort and human dignity does a wooden floor lend as opposed to a cold concrete one? What fragment of one’s sanity and emotional stability might be better held in place by a few more feet of space in which to move?

The inside of the door to one of the isolation cells, covered in graffiti left by its inhabitants.

The inside of the door to one of the isolation cells, covered in graffiti left by its inhabitants.

I held myself together until we saw the black men’s isolation cells. As I have felt in most of the prisons I’ve visited around the world, there are places where the pain seems to radiate out of the walls and floor with a cold intensity. The walls have seen so much suffering that they appear to have absorbed it. We were able to walk inside the cells and close the doors behind us to have a clear sense of what the people who lived in this place endured. The back of each metal door was covered in writing etched in the paint. The small courtyard outside the isolation cells is covered by a network of barbed wire laid out in a grid so that even when you step out of isolation into the sun, there’s a cruel barrier between you and the sky.

In a separate area of the prison women served there time away from men. The isolation cells for black women now contain museum exhibits.  In front of each of the doorways to the cells, a large placard bears the photograph and a biographical sketch of one of the women who served time on this wing. Inside each cell a video monitor displays pieces of interviews done with the women featured on the placards, and beneath the video screens, artifacts of the women’s lives are on display. One woman says in her video that she had the most beautiful wedding dress imaginable, and she waited a very long time for her incarceration to end so that she could show it to her family. The bright yellow gown hangs in the cell beneath the video screen that plays her story.

I could tell you far more about this incredible museum and its moving tributes to its former inhabitants–particularly the poignant memorials to Ghandi and Mandela–but time and energy do not permit me to do so.  If you have the opportunity to visit Johannesburg, you should not miss Constitution Hill. The museum reminds all of us that our active participation is required in order for democracy to adequately function, much less flourish, and the exhibits at Constitution Hill encourage their viewers to grapple with notions of justice, freedom, and democracy because such things should never be taken for granted.

Andy and I have had quite a few more adventures since our trip to Constitution Hill, but they will have to wait for another blog post. We’ve been so busy that we’ve hardly had time or energy to write! More to come as soon as I am able. I’ll leave you tonight with one last image from Constitution Hill. These are the doors to the Constitutional Court, home of South Africa’s Constitution and one of the country’s greatest symbols of democracy. The door is carved with the twenty-seven rights guaranteed by the nation’s constitution, and the rights are written in a variety of languages, including sign language. May we each take a page out of the South Africans’ book and reflect on the rights that we have and on the struggles of those who have been and are being denied human and civil rights.


New Beginnings: My Father’s Return and My Trip to South Africa

29 Jul

Regular readers of this blog, if indeed there are any after such prolonged silence, have waited for a long time for news of my father’s parole, and I can now proclaim, with greatest joy:

My father is home at long last! Halelujah!

To protect his privacy at this sensitive moment of reentry, I will not say much more than that at this time, but I must express my unending gratitude for the support that so many of you have shown us lo these twenty years. Having loved ones stand with us through this long period of imprisonment has made the journey more bearable, and now we can celebrate together in this new chapter of our lives. My father is a most remarkable man, and I am so very happy that many of you can get to know him in the flesh now that he is home. The blessings cannot be measured.

With this immense joy in my heart, I have set off for South Africa to spend two weeks investigating prison theatre programming here as part of the ongoing research for my book (under contract with Methuen Press) on prison theatre around the world. Previous travels have taken me throughout the United States and to Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Brazil.  Last summer I blogged rather extensively about my trip to Brazil (read about prison visits here and here), and I’ll be doing so again in just a couple of weeks when I’ll travel from South Africa to Rio de Janeiro to meet up with a dozen of my students from the University of Michigan to continue our exchange program with the faculty and students of UniRio who do theatre work in prisons.


Andy at dinner with the awesome family-sized dhosa (Indian bread) that we ordered. It was as long as the table, and we ate almost all of it!

Andrew Martínez, an extraordinarily talented doctoral student in UCLA’s World Arts and Culture/Dance program, has come to South Africa as my research assistant, and he’s helping me to document all of the things we are learning about prison arts culture and programming here. I’ll be blogging about our journey over the next four weeks in South Africa and Brazil as we try to discover how and why so much theatrical activity is taking place in prisons in these countries.

After nearly two days spent on airplanes and in airports, Andy and I arrived in Johannesburg rather late on Sunday night. We slept in the next day, trying to shake off our jet lag, then ventured out to find dinner and see a bit of the local neighborhood. We’re staying in an affluent part of town called Rosebank, on the north side of Johannesburg, and despite the apparent wealth of the neighborhood’s residents, every home and building looks like a prison. Everything here sits behind ostentatious walls–great solid things with metal spikes and rows of concertina wire surrounding them.  There’s a very wealthy high school just across the street from our hotel, and from the window in our room we can see a fancy swimming pool and a soccer field made of pristine astroturf.  When we walked up close to the school, all we could see were walls and lots of barbed wire.  The day care center across the street was similarly barricaded, as were all of the impressively large homes on the surrounding streets.  I don’t know how to compare this to a wealthy neighborhood in other places I’ve visited. In Beverly Hills or a very ritzy neighborhood I once visited in Cairo, Egypt, you might see high walls around a home and ornate gates, but in those places barbed wire and spiked walls would seem out of place and even signify a diminishment in wealth or class status. In Johannesburg it seems that the more successfully imprisoned you are in your home, school, or place of business, the better off you are.

Today we began our research in earnest, starting with a trip to Constitution Hill in the neighborhood of Braamfontein. Built in 1892, Constitution Hill served as a prison for most of its history, with a brief interlude as a military outpost during the South African War (1899-1902). The prison endured for more than 100 years, housing both men and women–many of them guilty only of the crime of being black during Apartheid. A great many political prisoners served time there, including Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and Albertina Sisulu. In the mid-1990s after the fall of Apartheid and Nelson Mandela’s release from prison (he spent only a brief period at Constitution Hill and the majority of his incarceration at Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town), the prison at Constitution Hill shut down. Several of the buildings there were torn down, and the bricks used to build the new Constitution Court, home of a new era of judicial process which was previously unknown in South Africa. Mandela himself lit the Flame of Democracy–an active fire which burns in a designated bowl built into one of the former stairwells of the prison, now enshrined as a memorial.  The remaining prison buildings at Constitutional Hill (and there are quite a few of them) serve as a museum–by far the best curated prison museum I have yet seen.

I’ll have to reflect more on the museum at Constitution Hill in my next blog post and can then also fill you in on the great meeting we had today with members of Themba Interactive, a local theatre company that educates prisoners and other groups about the health threat of HIV/AIDS. I will also do my best to post some pictures of our visit to Constitution Hill because the internet in our hotel room tonight does not seem to want to let me upload any more pictures this evening. (Sorry, Mom!)

I bid you all good night from our little corner of Johannesburg.

The Atonement Project: Restorative Justice and the Arts

10 Feb

The Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) is excited to announce an opportunity to be part of its new Atonement Project initiative—an arts-based restorative justice program that seeks to start meaningful conversations about crime, incarceration, and reconciliation.

Anyone whose life has been touched by crime or incarceration in any way is invited to join a weekly Atonement Project arts workshop in either Detroit or Lansing. Workshops are facilitated by University of Michigan students enrolled in PCAP Director Ashley Lucas’ Atonement Project course. Workshops began February 1 (Detroit) and February 4 (Lansing) and run for 12 weeks. Contact Ashley Lucas at for more information or to register. You are welcome to join even if you already missed the first weeks of the workshop.

Project Description

The Atonement Project is an innovative, arts-based approach to addressing issues that many crime victims and people who have committed crimes find difficult to discuss (i.e. forgiveness and reconciliation). We wish to create spaces, both through an interactive website and through arts workshops in prisons and in communities affected by crime, where the arts and creativity can help us bridge the divides created by crime and incarceration. The ultimate goal of the Atonement Project is to bring together people whose lives have been shaped by crime so that we can join our efforts to prevent further harm to our families, loved ones, and communities.

Drawing on a broad variety of art forms, including visual art, creative writing, theater, music, poetry, and dance, the Atonement Project uses creative expression to engage participants in tough conversations about crime, punishment, and reconciliation. Technology, including the Atonement Project website, video, digital photography, social media, and interactive online tools will enable web users to have access to the products of our arts workshops and participate in larger conversations about forgiveness and atonement.

The use of creativity and art in examining issues related to atonement and reconciliation is a central component of the Atonement Project. Many people respond more openly to and are able to connect with the experiences of others when they read their stories and experience visual art. The art created in our workshops and displayed on our website will focus on the following three areas of the atonement process:

  • Acknowledgement: Recognizing how we have hurt and how we have been hurt by others.
  • Apology: Apologizing to those we have hurt, and apologizing to ourselves for the hurt we have caused ourselves.
  • Atonement: Atoning through direct actions in our community, with people we have hurt as well as ourselves.

Community Workshops

Anyone whose life has been touched by crime or incarceration in any way is welcome to participate in community workshops, and there is no cost involved in participation. Workshops will take place once a week for two hours and will run for twelve weeks. We ask that participants try to come to all workshops, but we understand that not everyone who participates will be able to attend every single week.

Each workshop will be a space for participants to collaborate as a group on creative writing, performance, and/or visual art. No prior artistic training or previous affiliation with PCAP is required. Everyone is welcome, and no particular skill set is necessary for participation.

Detroit Workshop

Saturdays, 1-3pm

February 1-April 19, 2014

U-M Detroit Center (South Studio)

3663 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

Lansing Workshop

Tuesdays, 6:30-8:30pm

February 4-April 22, 2014

Michigan State University

Snyder-Phillips Hall C301
362 Bogue Street (close to the intersection of Bogue and Grand River)
East Lansing, MI 48825

Contact Ashley Lucas at to register.

About the Prison Creative Arts Project

The Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) was founded in 1990 with the mission to collaborate with incarcerated adults, incarcerated youth, urban youth and the formerly incarcerated to strengthen our community through creative expression. Housed in the University of Michigan’s Residential College, faculty and students work with community members both inside and outside prisons to engage in theatre, dance, visual art, creative writing, slam poetry, and music.

More information, including a link to the Atonement Project website (which we hope to launch later this month) will appear on this blog soon.

Meanwhile, my dear friend Margarita Mooney (a sociologist at Yale) visited our class and wrote a fantastic blog entry of her own that explains our work beautifully.  Thank you, Margarita, for your support of the Atonement Project and for your wonderful visit to the Atonement Project class!

Ashley Lucas to speak in El Paso on June 27, 2013

14 Jun

Doin’ Time: Families and Incarceration
A public lecture and performance
by Ashley Lucas

Thursday, June 27, 2013 at 7 PM
Hanks High School Theater
El Paso, Texas

Proceeds from this event benefit Community Solutions of El Paso (an organization that provides services to prisoners’ children) and the Prisoners Family Conference

Tickets: Adults $20, Students & Children $7

Click here to see the poster.

Sing Sing Production of Our Town

4 Jun

Click here to read an article about a production of Thornton Wilder’s classic play Our Town, produced by Rehabilitation Through the Arts at Sing Sing prison.

Shakespeare in Prisons Conference, Nov. 15-16, 2013

28 May

Shakespeare at Notre Dame is pleased to announce the Shakespeare in Prisons Conference hosted by the University of Notre Dame on Friday, November 15, and Saturday, November 16, 2013.

Featuring keynote addresses and film screenings by Curt Tofteland (founding director of Shakespeare Behind Bars) and Tom Magill (founder of the Educational Shakespeare Center and director of the Irish film Mickey B ), the conference aims to bring together artists and educators engaged in transformational arts programs using Shakespeare in prisons across the USA (and the world) for an exploration and study of the effects such programming has on prison populations. The goal is to promote a collaborative learning forum where participants will be exposed to a diverse array of programs that all strive for a common result: the habilitation of the inmate’s mind, heart, body, and spirit.

Departing from the traditional academic conference structure, the Shakespeare in Prisons conference will focus on the craft and experiences of the practitioner—while allowing ample time for one-on-one networking and collaboration.

In addition to the keynotes and film screenings (and Q&A’s), attendees are invited to participate in workshops that explore innovative methodologies, as well as panel discussions that are designed to stimulate discussion about practitioner experiences and best practices within the industrial prison complex.

Registration is $25 and includes a dinner/reception on Friday night, lunch and dinner on Saturday, and admission to all workshops and film screenings. Online registration begins on Monday, June 10 via . More information regarding the conference schedule, lodging information, and the availability of a limited number of bursaries to help with attendee expenses will be made available on June 10. In the meantime, please contact Scott Jackson at  for more information.

We hope that you will join us for this unique gathering of like-minded individuals.

All the very best–

Scott Jackson, Peter Holland, and Curt Tofteland


About the speakers and host:

Curt L. Tofteland  is the founder of the internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Behind Bars (SBB) program. SBB has twelve programs in Kentucky and Michigan. He currently facilitates the adult Shakespeare Behind Bars/Michigan program at the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon Heights and SBB’s first co-gender, court-ordered, juvenile Shakespeare Behind/Beyond Bars programs at the Ottawa County Juvenile Detention Center and the Juvenile Justice Institute. From 1995-2008, he facilitated the SBB/KY program at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex, producing and directing fourteen Shakespeare productions. His 2003 SBB/KY production of The Tempest  was chronicled by Philomath Films, producing the documentary Shakespeare Behind Bars , which premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and went on to be screened at 40+ film festivals worldwide, winning eleven awards. He is a national and international speaker, having lectured at over forty colleges and universities across the United States and at TEDx Berkeley, TEDxEast (NYC), and TEDx Macatowa. For his work as a Prison Arts Practitioner he was awarded fellowships from the Fulbright and Petra Foundations, as well as a Doctorate of Humane Letters from Bellarmine University. He is a founding member and past president of the Shakespeare Theatre Association, an international service organization for theatres that produce the works of William Shakespeare. He is a published essayist and poet, currently authoring the book, Behind the Bard-Wire: Reflection, Responsibility, Redemption, & Forgiveness…The Transformative Power of Art, Theatre, and Shakespeare.  From 1989-2008, he served as producing artistic director of the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, producing fifty Shakespeare productions, directing twenty-five, and acting in eight. A trailer for Shakespeare Behind Bars  can be viewed at More information on Curt’s work can be found at

Tom Magill  is an ex-prisoner who transformed his life through arts education while in prison for violence. While incarcerated he met his enemy—and his enemy became his teacher. On release he earned a B.A. (Hons) in Drama and Theatre Studies at the University of Birmingham and an M.A. in Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds. He is an award-winning filmmaker, drama facilitator, actor, writer, director, and producer. He specializes in utilizing Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” methodology and the works of William Shakespeare in transforming community and prison settings. After training with Michael Bogdanov, he became his and Augusto Boal’s personal representative in Northern Ireland. In 1999 he founded the Educational Shakespeare Company (ESC) to develop drama and film with prisoners and ex-prisoners. ESC is an award-winning arts education charity, empowering marginalized people to find their voice and tell their stories through film. In 2007 he directed Mickey B , an award-winning feature film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth  cast with prisoners from Maghaberry maximum-security prison. For his film direction he has received the 2011 Justice in the Community Award (from the Northern Ireland Department of Justice), the 2008 Roger Graef Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film at the Koestler Awards (for Mickey B ), the Arthur Koestler Award for Prison Drama in 2004 and 2006 (for Inside Job  and The Big Question , respectively), and the Impetus Human Rights Award in 2005, 2006, and 2007 (for Bridging the Divide ). He has presented his film work in Britain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Israel, Nigeria, South Korea, and the United States. More information on Tom’s work can be found at A trailer of Mickey B  can be viewed at Peter Holland  holds the McMeel Family Chair in Shakespeare Studies and is the Associate Dean for the Arts at the University of Notre Dame. He is one of the central figures in performance-oriented Shakespeare criticism, served as Director of the Shakespeare Institute at Stratford-upon-Avon before coming to Notre Dame in 2002. He is editor of Shakespeare Survey  as well as a number of other series. Among his books are English Shakespeares: Shakespeare on the English Stage in the 1990s  and a major study of Restoration drama The Ornament of Action . He has also edited many Shakespeare plays, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream  for the Oxford Shakespeare series. In 2007, he completed publication of a five volume series of collections of essays entitled Rethinking British Theatre History . In 2007-08, he served as President of the Shakespeare Association of America. He was elected an honorary fellow at Trinity Hall, his alma mater and one of the 31 colleges that comprise the University of Cambridge. His Arden edition of Coriolanus  was released in early 2013.

Shakespeare at Notre Dame  is a program that recognizes the centrality of the study of Shakespeare in humanistic pedagogy at the University of Notre Dame. The creation of the “Shakespeare Initiative” in 2001 sought to broaden the Shakespeare offerings on campus and establish the permanence of this new tradition for an audience of students, faculty, the South Bend community at-large, and a national and international audience. To that end, the current programs and future prospects that comprise Shakespeare at Notre Dame have created a regional center for Shakespearean scholarship, production, educational outreach, and academic research by enmeshing programs as far-reaching and diverse as Actors From The London Stage, the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, visiting guest artists and lecturers, touring productions, and new media library collections; ensuring Notre Dame’s status as a nationally visible—and the Midwest’s pre-eminent—venue for Shakespeare Studies. Find out more at

Radio story about Illinois performance of Doin’ Time

4 Oct

I sincerely apologize for not yet finding a moment to write about the incredible experiences I had performing Doin’ Time last month at Illinois State University and at Lincoln Correctional Center, but I promise to provide an update soon.  In the mean time, here is a link to a radio interview I did with the local NPR station in Bloomington just prior to my performances there.
Please note that at the end of the radio interview I stated the wrong name of the activist organization I was describing.  The organization I’m actually describing at this moment in the interview is Our Children’s Place, which is an amazing group of folks in North Carolina who provide support for the children of prisoners.  The organization I named instead is another great activist organization called All of Us or None, which serves prisoners and reentrants nationwide.  Both groups are doing vital and difficult work, and I am proud to support their efforts.

More soon. . .

Performing at Illinois State Univ. and Lincoln Correctional for Women Sept. 19 and 21

15 Sep

About a year ago, a woman named Sherrin Fitzer contacted me out of the blue, asking if she could get a copy of the script of my play Doin’ Time to share with a group of women in an Illinois prison.  Sherrin works at Lincoln Correctional Center for Women and leads a theatre troupe comprised of incarcerated women; they call their ensemble Acting Out.  Sherrin and I exchanged many emails and conjured up a plan to collaborate.  Janet Wilson, director of the School of Theatre and Dance at Illinois State University in Bloomington, has collaborated with Sherrin and the women of Acting Out for many years, and Janet extended an invitation to me to perform Doin’ Time on her campus.  With support from many corners of the university, including the School of Theatre and Dance, Latino Studies, Crossroad’s Project, Honor’s Program, School of Social Work and the Department of Criminal Justice Sciences, Janet and Sherrin arranged a week-long residency for me:

My time at Illinois State will be very exciting, but what will happen at Lincoln Correctional later that week is the most amazing opportunity I’ve had in eight years of touring with this play.  The women in the Acting Out troupe have read my script and written their own monologues about visitation and families.  Sherrin has been emailing me drafts of their monologues, and in this manner the women and I have been able to respond to one another’s work.  They have written some very powerful pieces, which they’ve been rehearsing with Sherrin.  Doin’ Time‘s director, the incomparable Joseph Megel, will travel to Illinois with me, and we’ll spend all day on Thursday, September 20th in rehearsals inside the prison with the women of Acting Out.  We’ll weave their eleven monologues into my play, and we’ll all perform together on the afternoon of Friday, September 21st for an audience of 150 to 200 incarcerated women.  Two more incarcerated women will run the tech cues for the show.
I have performed in a handful of prisons now in the U.S., Ireland, and Canada, and I’ve seen prisoners perform plays of their own in Michigan, North Carolina, and Louisiana.  I’ve also conducted and participated in improvisational theatre workshops in quite a few prisons, but this will be the first time that I’ve actually performed in a play with incarcerated theatre makers and the first time that anyone ever wrote or performed new material in response to my play Doin’ Time.  I have never performed Doin’ Time with other actors, and though I haven’t yet met any of the women of Acting Out, I am already deeply moved by their words and their willingness to enter into this adventure with me.
If you are going to be near Bloomington this week, please come to the show!  I’ll be posting more about my time in Illinois after my trip there.


PCAP Linkage Art Exhibition, April 20 to May 5, 2012 in Holland, MI

23 Apr

The Prison Creative Arts Project (PCAP) is an amazing program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, that takes undergrads into prisons, juvenile facilities, and urban high schools throughout Michigan to conduct collaborative arts workshops.  One of their other programs, the PCAP Linkage Project supports formerly incarcerated artists, writers, actors, dancers, and musicians who worked with PCAP during their imprisonment.  Working with returning citizens is far more difficult than working with folks in prison.  Though life in prison is terribly unpleasant, the incarcerated don’t have to worry about where their next meal is coming from, how they’ll find work and make an income, or where they will sleep that night.  Returning citizens often find the free world very changed from what they knew before they entered prison, and those of them who became artists while in prison struggle to continue working creatively after their release because other concerns take precedence over the desire to make art.

On April 5, 2012, the PCAP Linkage Project held an amazing conference, organized by staff member Heather Wilson, for formerly incarcerated artists.  I had the privilege of getting to attend the day’s events in Detroit, meet the artists, and see some of their work.  Many of the artists brought drawings and paintings to the conference, and all the works of art collected that day are now on display at the Ridge Point Community Church at 340 104th Avenue in Holland, MI.  (That’s in the western part of the state, not far from Grand Rapids.)  Click here for more information about the exhibition which runs from now until May 5, 2012.  If you’re out in that neck of the woods, don’t pass up the opportunity to see these wonderful works of art.

If Walls Could Talk: A Mural Project with Incarcerated Mothers and Their Children, a post by Ashley Lucas

3 Jan

My former student Jamila Reddy just sent me this link to a website about a proposed mural project with incarcerated mothers at Riker’s Island and their children.  The incarcerated mothers will create an image which their children will paint in East Harlem, and the children will create an image which their mothers will paint inside the prison.  The video on the website shows artist Katie Yamasaki’s incredible previous mural work, which is very socially engaged.  She has collaborated with communities of women all over the world, and this project promises to produce amazing results as well.  Yamasaki is trying to raise the funds necessary to make these murals a reality.  This is the kind of place where I wish my tax dollars were going.  Very few activists or artists have such excellent ideas for connecting communities separated by prison walls.  Yamasaki’s efforts are inspiring and inspired.  Do not miss the chance to support this incredible work!

A Prison Is a Prison, Even in Canada: Doin’ Time on Tour; a post by Ashley Lucas

13 Oct

During the week that ended September and began October 2011, I had the privilege of taking my play to Canada for the first time.  One of Razor Wire Women‘s contributors Simone Davis took on the arduous task of scheduling three performances at two universities and a prison in the nation where she teaches and makes her home.  Simone does some incredible work.  In addition to teaching at the University of Toronto, she has brought the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program to Canada for the first time, setting up a course which a professor named Shoshana Pollack now teaches for students from Wilfrid Laurier University and incarcerated women at Grand Valley Women’s Institution.  By all reports, the new Inside-Out class is going very well, and at least one outside and a few inside students in the course attended my performance at the prison.  During my time in Canada, Simone told me about an extraordinary annual event called Prisoners’ Justice Day which is commemorated all over Canada with fasts, speeches, and protests.  Simone gave me a beautiful tee shirt designed for Prisoners’ Justice Day, and I will wear it with pride.  Thank you, Simone!

My first performance in Canada took place in the lovely Gill Theatre at the University of Toronto, where an incredible group of faculty and graduate students hosted me and ran the tech for the show.  Though the audience appeared to have about ninety people in it, they were so quiet that I could not read their reactions to the play until the house lights came on at the end of the show.  (Canadian audiences outside of prisons are in my experience a much quieter bunch than folks in the U.S. or Ireland.)  We had a very engaging and productive conversation at the end of the performance.  Several days later I encountered an equally supportive audience at Trent University in the small town of Peterborough, where I was hosted by a wonderful scholar named Gillian Balfour whose co-edited collection Criminalizing Women has a good deal in common with Razor Wire Women.

In between the two university performances, I visited Grand Valley Women’s Institution and performed for a group of about thirty incarcerated women.  The staff at Grand Valley explained to us that the prison has both minimum and medium security housing units but that the differences between the two were not enough to be much of an incentive for women to want to move down to medium security.  The whole prison operates on a higher security level, and with stricter rules, than most minimum security facilities in Canada.  True minimum security facilities in Canada do not have fences around them, but Grand Valley does.  Even at that, I was surprised to learn that the women there had some privileges that incarcerated people in the U.S. almost never have, like communal kitchens where they can cook meals for themselves.  (I also heard about such kitchens at the women’s prison in Dublin when I was there in 2005.)  Grand Valley also has some form of segregation cells for holding prisoners in isolation, though I did not see them or hear about how many such cells exist or why women are placed there.

My access to Grand Valley was facilitated by Simone Davis and Grand Valley’s educational counselor Peter Stuart, who not only took care of all arrangements made in preparation of my arrival but also ran the sound cues during the play.  Peter approaches his job with good humor, intelligence, and a genuine concern for the well-being and education of the women incarcerated at Grand Valley.  He represents the very best sort of work that can be accomplished by prison employees; he works to help prepare women to have successful lives after they leave prison.

As with all audiences I’ve encountered inside prisons, the women at Grand Valley watched my performance so intently and with such obvious emotion that I felt wrapped up in the energy that they offered me.  Several women left the performance early, most of them during the Healer monologue–the one published in RWW about a little girl whose father is in prison.  They were not in any way disruptive as they left, but it seemed clear that those who were going felt it would be too painful to stay–or at least that it what it looked and felt like to me.  The same thing happened with at least one of the women in the prison in Limerick, Ireland, when I performed there.  That monologue in particular appears to be the one that elicits the most forceful emotions from women whom I presume are incarcerated mothers.

In the discussion after the performance, the women told me about what visiting with their families is like at Grand Valley.  Drug sniffing dogs inspect each visitor and often terrify the children coming to see their mothers and grandmothers.  One of the women was very upset about a new schedule for a form of special visitation where families can stay the better part of a day at the prison.  Though I did not quite grasp all the details of how such visits are scheduled, I learned that such visits must be scheduled in advance and that the new form of scheduling makes it harder for families on the outside to choose the dates that would be workable for them, resulting in fewer of these special visits.  Several of the women in the audience wept as the cuts in visiting were discussed, and then a surprising thing happened.  One of the women who had spoken quite a bit during the discussion stood up and hugged me.  She thanked me for my performance, then sat me down in the front row of the audience and said, “Now I have something I want to give to you.”  She then performed a country song she had written about being an incarcerated mother.  The song had several verses and a chorus complete with hand gestures that suggested holding a baby, dancing with a man, and dying.  Never before has someone in an audience offered me a performance after my play, and I was delighted and remain deeply grateful.

People in all three of the audiences I met in Canada were deeply troubled by the new omnibus crime bill which looks certain to pass through Parliament soon.  The bill introduces mandatory sentencing and longer prison terms than Canadians have faced in the past.  The prison I visited was already expanding in anticipation of the many new prisoners expected in the next five years.  Peter Stuart at Grand Valley has begun investigating longer term educational programming to benefit the women who will serve longer sentences.  Why is it that other countries emulate the very worst of U.S. policies on crime and incarceration?

My memories of the women I met at Grand Valley will remain with me always, and my sincerest thanks go to Simone, Gillian, Peter, and the folks at the University of Toronto for making my first Canadian tour such a success.  If any of the folks I met in Canada are reading this and would like to share reactions to the performances on the blog, we would be happy to post them.

Prison Arts in the News Website, a post by Ashley Lucas

11 Sep

A recent comment on this blog led me to discover an excellent website I’d never seen before.  The Prison Arts in the News Website provides links to arts work happening in prisons all over the world.  The blogger running the site does not provide commentary on these news stories but casts an impressive net in finding instances of prison arts work in many genres and countries.  This sort of data compilation is really helpful for those of us who write scholarly articles about prison arts work and for artists who want to find models of how others are doing such work in carceral contexts.

Kudos to the administrator of the Prison Arts in the News Website!  I admire your work.

Drama Therapy in Prison Contexts by Ashley Lucas

27 Aug

When Jodie forwarded me the link to a news story about the use of drama therapy in a women’s prison in Lebanon, I was reminded yet again of the power of the arts in difficult times and places.  Theatre has been used for thousands of years to document, describe, and reflect the most violent, arduous, and incomprehensible of human actions and emotions.  In the past few decades, many trained therapists have learned to use theatre as an effective tool to help patients tap into their traumatic life experiences and productively think about, discuss, and reenact events which shape their current emotional states and behaviors.

The Geese Theatre Company is perhaps the best known group which uses drama therapy in correctional settings, and they have worked with youth and adults in prisons as well as prison staff members in countries around the globe.  Though I have not seen their work personally, a certified drama therapist friend of mine who has studied their techniques uses them to great success with the court-involved youth with whom she works in North Carolina.

It should be noted that all theatre happening in and around prisons is not necessarily drama therapy.  Though many people casually attribute therapeutic qualities to all artistic activity, especially when its conducted by or with disadvantaged populations, real arts therapy requires a licensed therapist who is trained to guide people through the emotional and psychological issues raised by particular artistic exercises.

My admiration extends to those practicing drama therapists who take on the many challenges faced by the incarcerated and those who work with them.  May this work bring about greater healing and peace in our troubled world.

Razor Wire Women at the 2011 ATHE Conference in Chicago

17 Aug

Greetings, razor wire women of the world!

This week the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) held its annual conference in downtown Chicago at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel, and the buzz about Razor Wire Women rippled through the conference.  I am overwhelmed by the amount of enthusiasm and support for this book and blog which were expressed to me over the course of the four days I spent at the conference.  Though our publisher, SUNY Press, does not attend this conference, I heard reports that ATHE attendees were asking publishers at the book exhibit where they could buy our book.  SUNY provided us with a stack of flyers providing a discounted purchase price on our book for ATHE participants, and demand for the flyers was so high that I ran out of them days before the conference ended.  The Women and Theater Program (WTP), which is a focus group within ATHE, helped to promote the book by sponsoring both a roundtable discussion of Razor Wire Women and a panel on documentary theatre, which discussed several plays, including Doin’ Time: Through the Visiting Glass.  (One monologue from the play appears in Razor Wire Women.)

Theatre scholar Sara Warner of Cornell University joined me on the roundtable discussion about Razor Wire Women and spoke about her research on the Medea Project: Theater for Incarcerated Women.  Sara’s chapter of RWW is one of several articles she has written about the extraordinary performance work done by director Rhodessa Jones and a mixed company of professional theatre makers and women detained at the San Francisco County Jail.  Sara has published several articles about the Medea Project’s work, and her most recent one appears in the final section of Razor Wire Women.  As it turns out, at least one woman in the audience of our panel that day, Lisa Biggs, has worked with the Medea Project in years past.  A heartfelt discussion ensued as the women who had gathered to engaged with the roundtable asked questions and shared their experiences of witnessing or participating in theatre in carceral settings.

Domnica Radulescu, a professor at Washington and Lee University, had heard about my theatre work in prisons at the 2007 WTP conference and since that time had tried unsuccessfully to gain access to a Virginia prison so that she could start a theatre workshop with prisoners.  She asked for advice about how to convince prison administrators to let her into a prison to do theatre.  Those of us in the room who had done this type of work before came up with a few tips that I thought might be useful to those of you reading this blog who have similar goals:

  •  Locate volunteers who are already working in the prison and get them to introduce you to the prison staff and administrators.  These volunteers might be doing faith-based ministry work, tutoring, or some other kind of work within the prison.  Their purpose in the prison does not necessarily need to align with yours, but these folks can help you get your foot in the door and earn the trust of those who run the prison.
  • Pitch your idea for a project or workshop in the prison as something that would benefit all people who live and work within the prison.  Theatre and other art forms help people build life skills, such as public speaking, literacy, and teamwork.  Your primary objective in wanting to do arts work in prison may not be about giving this skill set, but helping prison administrators understand the benefits of theatre will enable them to see your ideas as positive contributions to a very difficult workplace.
  • Keep in mind that prisons are complex environments with many security and scheduling concerns.  Be adaptable and work with those who run the prison to make sure that what you are doing does not inconvenience them any more than is necessary.
  • Follow all prison rules, even if you personally object to them.  Sometimes rules exist for legitimate reasons you do not understand. Even if the rules are truly arbitrary and unfair, you must remember that your ability to work with prisoners is completely dependent on your ability to gain access to them.  As a volunteer, you have no control over how the prison is run, and when you enter a prison as a volunteer, you do so only because those who are in control have given you permission to be there.  If you do not respect their rules, you will not be allowed to return, and the prisoners who meet with you could suffer consequences for your behavior.  Any breech of the rules could also cause administrators to shut down other programs for prisoners besides the one with which you are involved.
  • Remember that prison guards and administrators are people, too.  This may seem like ridiculous advice, but it needs to be said.  Activists and prisoners’ family members may have very negative feelings about prison guards and administrators because of their personal experiences with them, but as in any profession, some people who work in the prison behave badly, while others display profound empathy and kindness.  If you walk into a prison assuming that all guards and administrators are the enemy, you will likely not last long at that prison, nor will whatever program you have come there to start.  People who work in prisons have incredibly difficult jobs, and some of those people genuinely want to help maintain prisoners’ personal safety during their incarceration and encourage them to live better lives upon their release from prison. Prison workers who have this mindset can be an incredible asset to your program and can do a great deal to provide you and the prisoners with access to space, time inside the prison, and resources.

Immediately following the panel on Razor Wire Women, I had the good fortune to be on a panel about documentary theatre, which was organized by Jules Odendahl-James, who does really amazing scholarship on forensic media.  Jules, Magda Romanska and Joan Lipkin each gave really remarkable presentations about various documentary plays, and I performed a couple of monologues from my one-woman show , Doin’ Time: Through the Visiting Glass.  After which, Nina Billone Prieur presented a paper about how her students at Duke University responded to my play after seeing me perform it on their campus.  Nina was particularly fascinated by the fact that my play, which depicts a variety of characters who have loved ones in prison, unsettled quite a few of their students.  Though the play makes no ostensible arguments about the guilt or innocence of people in prison, some of the Duke students felt that to have sympathy with prisoners’ families meant that they had to somehow relinquish their beliefs that people in prison deserve their incarceration.  Nina provided a very cogent analysis of the ways in which the students’ overall affinity for me as a performer or a narrator of these experiences and as a prisoner’s child myself seemed to some to disrupt their abilities to perceive prisoners as purely “bad,” despite the fact that I at no time play the role of a prisoner during the show.  This was the first time that I’ve ever heard a scholar speak about my work as a playwright and a performer, and I am humbled to have created the site for Nina’s very perceptive analysis.

Many thanks to the scholars and theatre makers at ATHE and the good women of the WTP!  Jodie and I are very grateful of your support for Razor Wire Women and for your own efforts to engage with incarcerated people.  This week the two of us are headed to Las Vegas for two conferences: the Society for the Study of Social Problems and the American Sociological Association.  We hope to see some of you there!

Job Posting for Project Coordinator with the Civilians: Help Produce a Play about Women Prisoners in Columbia

7 Aug

Below is a job posting for a project coordinator position with The Civilians. Please pass along to any that may be interested. For more information, e-mail managing director Marion Young:


*The Bogota Project*
*US Project Coordinator:*

The Civilians seeks a Project Coordinator for its upcoming project, working title the Bogota Project. The Civilians is developing an original musical inspired by the real life annual beauty pageant in El Buen Pastor Women’s Prison, the national women’s prison in Bogota, Colombia. The Civilians will go inside the prison in Bogota for four weeks in September, 2011 to conduct research and interviews with the participating and non-participating inmates, guards, prison staff, judges, and pageant coaches. The research and interviews will be used to shape a new musical with a book by Academy Award-nominated playwright Jose Rivera and songs by the Colombian rock band Aterciopelados.

Based on a process developed by The Civilians over ten years, the Investigative Phase will involve Colombian artists conducting interviews in Bogota. At the end of this first Phase, the creative team will synthesize all of the material, creating a work to be developed in partnership with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and the Iberoamericano Festival de Teatro en Bogota.

The position of Project Coordinator will have two main purposes: The first is to support the organization and coordination of the Investigation Phase in partnership with Ella Fuksbrauner, the Colombian-based Project
Coordinator. In this capacity, the Project Coordinator will be the main point of communication between Colombia and The Civilians’ Brooklyn offices, confirming that the required interviews are taking place, that all necessary information is passed along on both sides, and keeping full documentation of all the interviews that are conducted for future tracking. Additionally, the Project Coordinator will assist Artistic Director Steve Cosson in researching important interview leads, the history of the pageant, and any other research requested by the participating artists.

Secondly, the US Project Coordinator is responsible for the organization, documentation, and tracking of all of the interviews and related transcripts. The Coordinator will be a point person in communicating between Jose Rivera and Aterciopelados about what interview transcripts they need as the play’s development takes place and for ensuring that all transcripts, interview releases, and audio is accounted for.

The position will begin in mid-August and will be a part-time four-month position through mid-December. Salary is competitive and will be based on number of hours available. Applicants must be bilingual in Spanish and English, should have experience with both administrative positions as well as research-based and dramaturgy work. Applicants of color are strongly

Please send a cover letter and resume, including three references to Marion Young at

Valencia C. in Images and Words, a post by Ashley Lucas

3 Jul

Valencia C., a RWW contributor incarcerated in California, is the only male prisoner featured in our book.  From the moment he read our initial call for contributions to the special issue of the National Women’s Studies Association Journal on “Women, the Criminal Justice System, and Incarceration: Processes of Power, Silence, and Resistance” (Summer 2008), Valencia (also known as Ciri) expressed genuine concern for and solidarity with women in prison.  The book Razor Wire Women eventually grew out of the abundance of high quality contributions we received for that journal issue.  Valencia was the first artist to get in touch with us and is the only artist featured both in that special journal issue and RWW.

After reading RWW for the first time, Valencia sent me an extraordinary letter accompanied by three new drawings.  Here are the images and the words he wrote to accompany them.  This first image is split in two here because my scanner wasn’t big enough to get it all into one image, but the daughter and mother figures here should be side by side (daughter on the left and mother on the right):

Drawing #1 is called “Epiphany.” (charcoal, pastels, and colored pencils on paper)

For this, I wrote:


                freedom, rights, and hope

                                are taken away

                dignity, sanity, and justice

                                carried out

                Young loved ones are left

                                to face danger and become

                                                society’s prey.

                Morals, humanity, and identity

                                are swept up

                and in a single epiphany,

                all is gone. . . forever lost.

Drawing #2 is called “Thrown Away.” (charcoal and pastels on paper)

It goes as follows:

                Legally thrown away

                                by the hand of those

                that are supposed to help

                                into a senseless place.

                A ruthless labyrinth

                                with the exits weld

                were many denied

                                you are illegally held

                your identity captive

                                as a rare bird in a cage.


#3 is titled “Ashley.” (watercolor in paper)

The first two pieces are a recapitulation of all I read in the book.  After I brainstormed, this came out.

The last one is a way of me showing gratefulness/gratitude for your work (and all “free” people who take a serious look at the problem and actually take the initiative to find a helpful solution).  This is for accepting my work and including it in your book, and I am willing to participate in any future projects if you would like me to, and if there is any in sight.

Might the Lord God bless you all.

Respectfully and thankfully,

Valencia C.

Valencia, we will gladly post your artwork and thoughts on this blog any time you would like to share them with us.

If those of you reading this blog would like to invite Valencia to contribute artwork to any of your future endeavors, please send a message to us using the “Contact Us” portion of our website, and we’ll be sure to send your words along to Valencia.  We would do the same for any of our incarcerated contributors, so please use this site to reach out to them and let them know how much their work means to you.  We sustain one another through communication.

From NewPolitics: On resistance in women’s prisons

25 May

A valuable piece by Victoria Law, who is the outside publisher of Tenacious and the author of Resistance Behind Bars. (More about both of those here or just look at the sidebar.) She narrates an entire secret history of fighting back in women’s prisons, beginning with the August 1974 rebellion at Bedford Hills:

IN 1974, WOMEN IMPRISONED at New York’s maximum-security prison at Bedford Hills staged what is known as the August Rebellion. Prisoner organizer Carol Crooks had filed a lawsuit challenging the prison’s practice of placing women in segregation without a hearing or 24-hour notice of charges. In July, a court had ruled in her favor. In August, guards retaliated by brutally beating Crooks and placing her in segregation without a hearing. The women protested, fighting off guards, taking over several sections of the prison, and holding seven staff members hostage for two and a half hours.

(Note: My linking to this piece is not meant to valorize rioting or hostage-taking. I wouldn’t want to be one of those seven guards. Nor for that matter would I want to be Carol Crooks after the guards finished beating her. Which is kind of the point.)


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