April 3, 2012

Today we watched the award-winning documentary Shakespeare Behind Bars, by which this program was inspired. There was some running commentary throughout the screening, and then we reflected on it together afterward. The participants liked that the group was able to perform not just for other inmates, but also for their families. They think that being able to perform for their families would give them even more motivation to fully commit and do their best because it would mean more to them with their families in the audience. Not all facilities allow this, but I am going to ask to see if it is possible.

They were impressed by the camaraderie and mentor situations in the film, as well as by the power the men found in the language. One participant said that she is inspired by what she saw to achieve that same result in her work. They thought it was great that the men in the film took everything so seriously. They were very amused that the men played two games in the film that we have played in our program.

The participants reflected on our program in reaction to the film, discussing the parallels there. Their observations here really moved me. They said that the class is an escape, which they also saw in the documentary, and that they really appreciate the bond and the unity that the group has formed. They said that it keeps them focused on something positive, which they generally find difficult. One participant said that although she did drama in high school, she spent a long time being shut down due to her drug use, and that, since she began our program, she has begun to access those parts of her that were buried for so long. She is re-connecting with her former self – she used the metaphor of a light bulb being switched on.  Another said that the program is helping her to overcome her shyness, which is a recurring theme among the participants.

The participants all agreed that they love this program, and several said that they cannot stop talking about it and are trying to recruit more participants, since we’ve lost some. They feel that the program has “opened up everything” and that it has been “life changing” – and we’ve only been at it for nine weeks. They found, however, that the people who have been there regularly have formed such a tight bond – one person said “bubble” – that it is difficult to integrate newcomers. Despite that, they would still welcome more participants.

The group also agreed that they want to meet more than once a week. They feel that they will need the additional rehearsal time, since they live in various units and can’t all get together on their own. I am going to explore that possibility.

This was a great day in which the participants were inspired by the documentary, which has inspired me, and in which I was deeply inspired by their honest revelations about the program. I have so hoped to create the atmosphere that we have created, and we have succeeded. I could not be happier.