“While there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”― Eugene V. Debs
“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison.”HEBREWS 13:1-3
“All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals.”–Michelle Alexander
In the Spring of 2018, I was in the process of gathering interviews from people affected by homelessness. Meanwhile, Haley was visiting Nebraska State Penitentiary with the great organization Compassion in Action in order to lead acting exercises. Haley found out about my endeavors via facebook. One day in May 2018, while we both attended the Great Plains Theatre Conference, Haley marched up to me and said, “I think we’re doing similar work.”
I don’t think either of us realized how similar our projects were to each other’s at first, at least not fully. Then I started guiding the guys at NSP through writing exercises and Haley started leading story circles at shelters. As people from both populations shared their stories with us, it quickly became clear how much the two groups held in common. You could easily make a venn diagram and observe plenty of overlap: regrets about past decisions, poverty, violence, hope for a better future, shame, feeling judged, and the list could continue.
Much like the one-dimensional and incomplete stories about the homeless that permeate our culture, are the equally dehumanizing ones about those in prison. We hear about riots and overcrowding in the news, but don’t get many stories about the human beings involved in these events. There are TV shows and movies with sympathetic renderings of the imprisoned, but they are often sensationalized and don’t always address the larger societal pieces that land people behind bars.
The guys we work with at NSP are nothing like any depiction of the incarcerated that makes it into most (not all) television shows or movies. They come from an array of backgrounds, but they all bring their whole hearts and souls to the work we do with them. These men share stories from their pasts that are often painful, but rarely show self-pity. They express hope for their futures and concern for one another. They nerd out about favorite bible passages or how well they did at a volleyball game. Basically, they’re just like everybody else. It’s so important for us all to remember that fact, especially if you happen to be lucky enough to have avoided prison yourself or haven’t had a loved one in that situation.
As always, we are constantly humbled by, and grateful to, the guests at the shelters, the guys at NSP and all those supporting this theatre’s mission.
Thank-you for reading.