We began tonight with a follow up discussion to the one on Friday, when one of the women implied, intentionally or not, that lifers are more likely to be like Richard III. A lifer who is in our group had journaled about it, and she read the entry to us. She talked about the hopelessness of a life sentence – how having no light at the end of the tunnel colors everything and understandably affects the behavior of people serving such a sentence. We all thanked her for sharing with us – it was very moving and a constructive way to rebut what was said last week.
A longtime member of the ensemble reminded everyone that we need to “dilute our words” – really think before we speak so that we don’t offend by using harsh words that could hurt. She has actually made a “dilution plan” for the group.
The woman who originally made the comment clarified what she meant and emphatically stated that she had not intended to hurt anyone’s feelings by using a generalization – that she has a lot of compassion for lifers and would never want to offend. Another participant reminded us all that we don’t know what everyone else is going through.
The woman who spoke of diluting words, said, “I’ve always been a truth teller… But it’s all about the selection of words. This group helps me think about the words that come out of my mouth.”
Another woman who felt like she may have offended last week said, “I didn’t mean to be derogatory or offend. But we need to be careful about generalizing. I can judge people on their charges or sentences, but that’s not productive.” The woman who originally made the lifers comment said, “I look at all of you the same.”
“I feel like I’ve changed so much in prison,” said a woman in her third year. “I don’t like to meet new people – I’m still friendly, but I have my guard up. But I told my therapist when she asked that there is one place I feel safe – Shakespeare.”
We did our ring exercise then and sat down to continue our work on the play. We began with Act Four, scene one, in which Elizabeth and Anne find out that Richard is now king. This brought back our discussion of Anne, who is eliciting some really mixed responses.
“Do you think she might feel guilt?” asked Sarah, one of our facilitators. “Maybe she’s putting on a bit of a show,” said one woman. Another woman agreed, saying, “I don’t care who I’m married to as long as I have all this power.”
Another participant mused, “It’s like going from the suburbs to the middle of Compton. She just took the other option. Now she feels guilty, but at least she didn’t go to jail. She had to do something so she didn’t end up in the slums.”
Speaking of both women, one person said, “They probably both fear for their lives. Everyone around them is dying. They pick the safest option. I’d be trying to save my own ass.”
“I already want to rewrite this play,” said one woman who said the same thing about Othello last year.
The conversation returned to Anne, and one womanreminded us of how harsh and dirty life was for most people in the time when the play is set. “To go from having a lifestyle – being clean, having food – to thinking about living in excrement… I’d marry someone pretty horrible to get out of that.”
“I thought I was smart till I started Shakespeare,” said one new member, only half joking. “You’ve been initiated,” said a returning member. “You’re one of us now.” We all laughed. And then of course we went back to Anne.
“Anne is every woman,” said one person. “At one time we are all innocent. We’ve lost innocence, have guilt, and are conscious of that loss of innocence.”
“It’s self-preservation. She didn’t think it through,” said another participant. The woman who spoke of innocence mused, “But doesn’t the fact that she knows she lost something mean that she is good?”
“You’re looking at your dead father-in-law, and in comes this guy who killed him,” said another woman, “And he’s ugly, grotesque… You’re listening to the words coming out of his mouth, and halfway through you’re gonna fall for him? She said his words were like honey. She’s full of shit.”
“How long has it been since her husband died?” asked one woman. I replied that, if I recalled correctly, it had only been a few years. “She was grieving,” said another participant, “And she was in a hard spot. You have to take all those factors into consideration, why she made that choice. Sometimes the most evil people can make you think something’s a good idea.” This is not the first time this woman has made this observation – I think it hits close to home for her. And another woman agreed, saying, “To be alone and have lost everything, and to have someone come in with a solution…” She broke off mid-sentence.
We moved on to Act Four, scene two, in which Richard plots to kill the princes in the Tower. Our discussion centered around Richard. “There would always be somebody who has to die – He’d never be comfortable,” said one person. “He loves chaos,” said someone else. “Even in the opening soliloquy. He likes war.”
Another woman asked, “Is there anything he does that isn’t necessary for his plan? Did he have to kill all of these people?” Someone replied, “Some of it seems unnecessary and impulsive.” But someone else disagreed. “He kills anyone who could get in his way.” We mused, then, over whether he had to marry Anne. Was it compulsive? Ego driven? To make his crimes seem not to be so bad?
Referencing the murders of Henry and Edward, one woman, said, “I’m gonna kick your ass, and then I’m gonna sleep with your wife.” Another person mused, “It’s keep your enemies close…”
The conversation moved to Buckingham, his hesitation to kill the princes, and his knowing that this means that Richard will kill him. “He should have known better,” said one woman. “The last guy to hesitate is dead. Why are you any different?”
“I helped you get the crown,” said another woman, speaking for Buckingham. “How could you not be my BFF?”
“The way you get a person is the same way you lose a person,” a newer member said.
We ended on a positive note, having had some really great discussions. I’m very pleased by how well the group defused what could have been a contentious situation and learned from what had happened.
We watched the Shakespeare Behind Bars documentary tonight, as we have every year. We got started a little late, so we didn’t have time to discuss it afterward. I asked the group to reflect, write in their journals if they wanted to, and be ready to talk about the film when we meet on Tuesday.
The group also unanimously decided to add one more person to our ensemble. She had asked to join at the same time as a current group member, but due to a clerical error was not added. She has been working on the play with this friend, and so there won’t be much catching up to do. No one saw any reason not to add her. It’s an odd time of the year to add someone, but I’m encouraged by the group’s openness to the possibility.