We don’t have to wonder anymore.
“Shakespeare in Prison saved my life.”
- Asia Johnson, SIP Alum
More than 100 people have completed a season or workshop with Shakespeare in Prison over the last seven years (not to mention the 150 others who’ve participated in partial seasons). We’ve seen dramatic changes in ensemble members’ sense of identity, outlook on life, and ways of moving through the world.
But, because we were not able to stay in touch with alumni (due to department policy), we did not know whether the work they did would carry through in their lives post-release.
Now, though, we ARE in touch with many alumni. So we don’t have to wonder anymore—they can tell us themselves.
Your support is crucial to the work we have always done in prison—and, as SIP’s alumni make very clear, your support has impact that reaches well beyond the barbed wire fence. Just as we’ve always hoped it would.
Please join us in continuing to support these hardworking, brave, passionate people. Click here to make your tax-deductible gift today.
+ What We Do
“I been staring at concrete walls for so long, and razor wire fences. But this showed me that there is green grass. There are blue skies. I’m more than a number.”
Shakespeare in Prison empowers incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to reconnect with their humanity and that of others; to reflect on their past, present, and future; and to gain the confidence, self-esteem, and crucial skills they need to heal and positively impact their communities.
+ Why We Do It
“I absolutely love Shakespeare, and I found a place where I actually feel like I belong, and I can be me, and everybody accepts it, whether it’s my bad or good.”
In SIP, people who’ve been systemically disempowered find a space where they feel human: where they are treated with dignity and accepted in their totality, rather than being defined by their worst mistakes. Twice each week, they come to a safe place where they are more than a number or a crime. In SIP, they come together to create bonds that transcend those of the usual prison experience—and these bonds can transcend the walls of the prisons themselves through our post-release program.
+ How We Do It
“We get to make these plays our own because we bring our own perspectives to ’em—no one has to tell us the answers, because we take ’em from our own lives.”
SIP's two ensembles (Womens Huron Valley Correctional Facility and Parnall Correctional Facility) work for nine months, performing at season’s end. Shakespeare in Prison is, very explicitly, neither a class nor a traditional theatrical process. Every effort is made to avoid hierarchy in the creative process and the development of the program itself. Every voice carries equal weight.
We interpret Shakespeare through our own experiences. We own these plays. We value theatrical, literary, and cultural traditions, but our ensembles’ interpretations (often nontraditional, but always text-based) take precedence. In staging, our objectives are simply to tell the story as we understand it (in under 90 minutes!) and to keep the ensemble together; this leads to breathtaking problem-solving and improvisation.
+ How Do We Know It Works?
"I never realized I had a future. I didn’t know I had a future before, and now I know I do. I owe so much to Shakespeare in Prison. If I was given this much in a few years, how much more could I grow?”
We have seen dramatic changes in ensemble members over the last seven years at WHV, and in the last two years at Parnall—sometimes in as little as two weeks. The cultures at these prisons are also shifting. Staff and inmates alike see the positive impact of the program, and they look forward to our performances. Our ensemble members take on new challenges and commitments, and they alter the way in which they interact with others. They feel better, so they do better.
On the outside, a number of alumni are pursuing goals developed in SIP. We get glowing reports about reconnecting with family and having real jobs—things they never thought possible. And, while recidivism is only one measure of success, 91.5% of SIP's alumni have stayed out of prison since their release. And that is awesome!!!
Through sustained support, mentorship, resource-sharing, and professional development opportunities, we hope to aid our alumni in this next phase as people who’ve known them in a positive light in the last one.
“To me, my life is a series of experiences, about making memories. This program, prison or not, is one of the crowning trophies. Something I won't forget. Feels to me like the foundation of positive change and improvement. It's a start to the man I've always wanted to be, the one everyone knew I'd become. Before Shakespeare in Prison, I had no idea how to get there. This program has shown me the way.”