Have any of you ever gone to prison?
I have been to prison quite a bit in the last couple of years, luckily not as an inmate, but to visit a friend. And while I could fill up the pages with the surreal experience of what a visit is like, I know that I cannot even begin to touch what it means to be incarcerated.
Most of us can live our merry lives without putting much attention on what life is like on the inside. If you’re like me, then you’ve probably been conditioned to think of it as the place where bad guys go or have the attitude that the inmates (especially the men) deserve whatever they get for committing crimes.
Having a friend end up in prison completely erased any preconceived notions that I had. Just going as a visitor strips you of a little bit of your humanity as you have to jump all of the hoops around dress code, security checks, and what seems like silly policies. How anyone gets out of prison with any shred of themselves intact seems like a miracle to me.
And yet I think I saw a miracle last night. I had the beautiful experience of going to the men’s prison in Umatilla, Oregon to see a play. Not just any play, but an inmate production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
|The actors posing after the show|
Good Lord, Shakespeare is hard! I barely got through reading all of the “thees” and “thous” when I was in high school and could not imagine what it would be like to see a bunch of potential murderers and criminals doing a production. And honestly driving 3 hours away to a prison show was not my idea of a hot date with my husband.
I willingly agreed to go, though, because of the amazing dedication of my husband Eric’s friend Johnny Stallings who leads a weekly support group at Two Rivers Correctional Facility and was awarded this grant to put on this production. Eric led a voice workshop and wrote a song that was in the show. I was on board to see the fruits of their labor.
It was unreal, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. The show was AWESOME. They brought Shakespeare to life in a way that made me deeply feel the story. In spite of none of them having any acting experience, they performed like professionals. The men played all of the roles including the women (just like original Shakespeare productions). Each one of them showed a piece of themselves while at the same time staying in character. I was seriously wowed and was easily able to suspend my initial mind chatter and curiosity about what led them to doing time.
And then after all was said and done, we got to stay and ask questions. That twenty minute question and answer session was one of the highlights of my year. I didn’t get to leave the performance with a skewed perception of prison life being about acting and shows and performances with cookies and coffee and community. Instead I got the gift of reality. I got to listen to these men pour their hearts out and share their personal stories about the bleakness of their daily lives and how this production has internally changed each of them.
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in prison was more than a show, it was the culmination of six months of risk taking, feeling, and emotional rawness that began with a dialogue group then led to rehearsals. The result was personal transformation like I’ve never seen. But all of us in that weirdly over-lighted, institutional room felt it that night and I know that we are all the better for it. I walked out of there with some hope.
Now I am not in any fantasy that this one production is the answer to all of the harm these men have experienced and committed. But I did see self-reflection, honesty, and vulnerability. I heard about the internal baby steps and the big leaps that the production inspired. And I am left hopeful because of that.
At All’s Well That Ends Well, the theory is that if things end well, then all is well. We borrowed that phrase from Shakespeare ourselves, and while we are specifically referring to the end of your digestive tract, we get the bigger picture. Call me a sucker, but wanting things to “end well” is the reason I get out of bed in the morning. Personal transformation (mine and yours) seems to be what this life is all about.
Through the years, many of you have graced us by using colon hydrotherapy and your sessions to bring on that change. And I have watched you and admired you as you have broken through life-long patterns. You have changed your diets, stopped being so hard on yourself, and moved a vast amount of physical and emotional shit that has been in the way of you having your life like you want it. I am in awe of you, my clients, and I am in awe of you Casey, David, Steve, Salathiel, Zebdiah, Aaron, William, Brandon, Larry, Joshua, James, Allen, and Gary. Thank you for changing my life by changing yours.