Linda H. Dean, special projects coordinator at Truman Pierce Institute (TPI), recently attended the Shakespeare in Prisons/Shakespeare Theatre Association Conference at Notre Dame University. Conference sessions focused on the use of Shakespeare and drama with incarcerated individuals for rehabilitation and intervention. Participation was limited to 100 attendees from throughout the world. Presenters included Rob Pensafini, professor of linguistics and drama, University of Queensland (Australia), and author of Prison Shakespeare; Jonathan Shailor, professor of communication at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and editor of Performing New Lives: Prison Theatre; Laura Bates, professor of English at Indiana State University and author of Shakespeare Saves My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard; and Tom Magill, director of Mickey B., a film adaptation of Macbeth performed by prisoners in a maximum-security prison near Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Dean attended sessions led by Meade Palidofsky, director of Storycatchers Theatre, that concentrated on working with drama in juvenile detention facilities. In 2013, Storycatchers received a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, which is awarded to only twelve non-profits each year.
“The strategies and philosophy promoted by Palidofsky are easily applicable to any at-risk youth populations, whether they are incarcerated or not,” Dean noted. “Today’s youth are experiencing many social challenges, including cybersafety, peer pressure, and unstable homes. All of these things can get them on the wrong track. We hope to apply some of the ideas from the Shakespeare in Prisons workshops to TPI outreach programs, including our Anti-Bullying initiative. Research has shown a connection between school bullying and later adult incarceration — the school-to-prison pipeline. School bullies are often expelled or drop out, then later wind up in prison because they have undergone no formal long-term holistic intervention that changes the way they perceive and react to situations. Role playing really helps in that process.”
Several former inmates were present at the conference, and described the impact that performing Shakespeare had on their lives. Their literacy skills were strengthened through analyzing the texts, but they also developed teamwork, commitment, and responsibility. Macbeth’s famous lines, “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow/ Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,” resonate especially with prisoners. But for many, the Shakespeare Prison projects open the door to a successful re-entry into society once they are released so that, in fact, their “tomorrow” will be better.