(Editor’s note: These photos of Alanna and her fellow inmates arrived by mail, and I don’t have a scanner, so I had to use my phone camera instead. Sorry for the potato quality. I’ll replace them with high-quality scans when I can. Additional note: All of the women in the group shot signed a release stating that they understood these photos could be publicly distributed.)
I’m going to jump ahead for a moment to explain the pictures I’ve posted. These are a few photos of the theatre performance we did for the inmates on February 17th. It was the first of its kind here. In fact, it’s the first theatre group ever at Coffee Creek. The men’s facilities have all kinds of programs, but not so many for the women. So this was a big deal, and I’m so happy to be in the group and to have been in the show.
Our show was made up of a variety of skits, poetry, and music. After each piece, a person would attach a paper flower to a tree that had started out bare. The idea was that through our stories, life would blossom. We did a couple of shorts, one of which was from Romeo and Juliet (I played Romeo). We changed it into a very funny scene where Romeo is trying to woo Juliet from below her balcony, but he’s interrupted by a singing telegram messenger. They end up playing rock-paper-scissors for the honor of “serenading the lady,” but all is lost when another suitor comes along while they’re playing. It was low budget (or more accurately, NO budget) so the costume I had was comprised of a blond wig and red sequin hat. We decided that maybe Romeo was trying to come out of the closet.
One of the best parts of putting on this little show was seeing the joy it brought to the women who came to watch. Some of the people here have been incarcerated for 15 years or more, and to be able to give them a night out was an honor. It was an hour when they could simply be people going to a show, rather than inmates in prison.
Having this theatre group has also been amazing for the women who are in it – myself included. It’s inspiring to watch people transform in the course of a few hours or less. I’ve observed, on multiple occasions, some of the members (especially the younger ones) come to class, still wearing their tough, prison personas, but through the exercises, begin to unwind enough to allow this vibrant flow of creativity to emerge. All of a sudden, the walls come down and sparks of life and vitality replace the pain and despondency that had been so apparent just moments earlier. It speaks to the need of the human spirit to have creative outlets in order to thrive.
During the performance, some of the women read stories or poems based on their own life experiences. These are women who have lived on the streets, been abused, lost children, been addicted – the list goes on. So they told the stories of their heart-souls and paths walked. They spoke of finding the deepest of spiritual teachings through traumas indescribable.
So you see, this little theatre group does more than just provide us with an activity on Sunday afternoons. It cultivates the very essence from which life springs. It is a place where we can find the voices that have, for so long, been caught in our throats.
There are many points on which I would like to touch regarding creativity and the human spirit. But for now, I will say this: If people are to re-enter society in a better state than that in which they were incarcerated, programs that inspire growth and self-reflection need to be made available. People need to be reminded that they are not simply the sums of their deeds, no are they only biproducts of their environments. We all have unfathomable depths that need to be explored, that true healing and growth may manifest.
I’ll be back next week with more of my story. And again, if there are any questions I can answer, I would be happy to do so.
Take care of yourselves, and each other,