Q: Have y’all ever heard that one This American Life episode about the prison theater class that does Hamlet? You should really check it out!
Yes, it’s called “Act V,” and it’s very inspiring! You can listen to it here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/218/act-v.
Q: Wow, you teach in a jail? That must be really hard – are you ever scared?
It can be difficult at times, but no more so than teaching in any other environment. We’ve never felt threatened or scared, and usually the women we teach are happy to have us there. We have less control over our classroom than in a school because officers can come take women out for visits when we’re in the middle of an activity or the jail can be on lockdown (which means the women can’t move in between buildings), which means our class will be delayed or canceled. We also have to seek approval to bring in certain supplies and it can be kind of weird to have officers watch you dance around and lead silly games.
Q: What’s the difference between a jail and a prison?
Think short-term and long-term.
Jails are most often run by sheriffs and/or local governments and are designed to hold individuals awaiting trial or a serving short sentences. Prisons are operated by state governments and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and are designed to hold individuals convicted of crimes. Jails operate work release programs, boot camps, and other specialized services. They try to address educational needs, substance abuse needs, and vocational needs while managing [incarcerated people's] behavior. State prison systems operate halfway houses, work release centers and community restitution centers – all considered medium or minimum custody. [Incarcerated people] assigned to such facilities are usually reaching the end of their sentences. (From the Broward Sheriff’s Office: http://sheriff.org/faqs/displayfaq.cfm?id=4f892698-5c5d-40f8-b159-c9a0b6ed66f3)
Q: Does the jail pay you to do this?
Nope! We have received small grants from various donors and we’re currently seeking sustained funding for our work. You can make a cash donation here — be sure to indicate “Conspire Theatre” in the comment box – or see our wish list!
Q: Why do you work with women and not men?
With such an increase in the numbers of women in the criminal justice system, penal institutions have a great need for gender specific programming that addresses the circumstances surrounding women’s incarceration, which differ significantly from men. According to Ana Yáñez-Correa, Executive Director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, “programs suited for men often fail to address pervasive physical and sexual victimization that has riddled the lives of women in prison” so she calls for more gender-specific programming for women in the criminal justice system, specifically for programs that include classes on anger management, cognitive thinking, self-esteem reinforcement and trauma recovery.
Conspire Theatre is uniquely positioned to address these needs, as we work in a holistic, embodied way to encourage joy, play, healing, and personal exploration.
Q: Why should women in jail get a theatre class? They shouldn’t be having fun – shouldn’t you be giving theatre classes to their victims instead?
We believe that by working with women while they’re incarcerated, we increase their chances of success once they’re released. While we recognize that the women in our classes might have hurt other people with their actions, punishing people without offering any tools to change their lives doesn’t benefit anyone. Most incarcerated people will be released at some point – do you want people to come back into the community angrier and less equipped than they were going in? There is an “us” and “them” mentality around incarceration that becomes ridiculous when you realize what a large percentage of the American population will be imprisoned at some point in their lives. The increased criminalization of nonviolent crime means that the United States has become an “incarceration nation”, with the highest per capita incarceration rate of any country in the world.
Q: Can I hire you to lead team building and/or professional development workshops for my company or organization?
Absolutely. Email Michelle Dahlenburg for more information!
Q: How can I get involved?
Come to our Inside Out community workshops: Once a month, we hold a workshop for women in the Austin community to experience our methods, create community, and have fun together. All women are invited, and we provide breakfast and child care. Go here (add link) to learn more.
Volunteer: Our facilitators who teach in the jail have specialized experience, backgrounds, and training. If you have experience as a social worker and/or applied drama practitioner and are interested in facilitating, we’d love to hear from you. We also invite guest artists to our class from time to time, so if you have a unique skill you’d like to share, let us know – we’re especially seeking Spanish speakers and women of color. We have other volunteer opportunities for child care, administrative support, grant writing, graphic design, marketing and financial management. Email email@example.com to learn more.
Join our Board: As a new organization, we’re seeking additional members for our Board of Trustees. If you are a lawyer, CPA, nonprofit professional, educator, social worker, theatre maker, a person with experience of incarceration, a philanthropist or a community minded individual, contact us more information.
Donate: Your contribution goes a long way towards paying our facilitators and supporting our workshops both in and out of the jail. You can make a cash donation here — be sure to indicate “Conspire Theatre” in the comment box – or see our wish list.