Looking back/Looking forward

I was fortunate enough to participate in the final class of Conspire Theatre
2010 before I moved to Sarasota, Florida. What a special event! Kat had informed
me that jail doesn’t generally engage much in holiday happiness (shocking) so for
our last class we had a low-key Christmas party. Low-key for a couple of reasons: 1)
We couldn’t bring in food (understandable, but it broke my heart to not make gaudy colored sugar cookies) and 2) Christmas is about as family-oriented as holidays get and we didn’t want to overdo the Yule-time cheer in the company of women who weren’t able to be with their families.

Even though I had been involved with the program for two months by this point, I was still having difficulty adjusting to the inconsistency of our class population. With women being moved to different facilities, attending court trials, getting released, registered and re-registered, we would have several old students missing and new students present every week. I didn’t anticipate the emotional upset I felt when I saw that certain classmates who had made such great progress were just gone the next week without any sort of goodbye or closure.

Despite this high turnover, Kat was always able to maintain continuity between classes by getting older students to provide quick recaps to the new ones, or by moving on to new material that put everyone on the same page. Our last class was no exception, as we managed to make it an intimate celebration of how far these women and this program have come.

Kat brought cards with individual handwritten notes addressed to each member of the class. In addition, she handed out blank cards so that everyone
could write a letter to herself in the future. Some were willing to read their letters
aloud and their words revealed sincere self-reflection and thought. In light of their inability to share physical Christmas presents with their loved ones, we went around and described nonmaterial gifts we had to give to others; gifts specific to our selves and our strengths. It’s the personal and empathetic touches like these activities that made Conspire such an exceptional program to work for.

Every day I came into class, I was struck by how receptive and willing most of the women were to participate. There were days when women seemed like they couldn’t wait to take on the improvisation and acting challenges we put before them – couldn’t wait to stand up and stand out for a little while. Conspire stimulates self-expression and creativity in an environment that tends to sap people of their ambition and sense of individuality. After witnessing the women’s gratitude during my last class, I now understand what an invaluable rehabilitative service this is.

Now that I’m living in Sarasota, I’m on the prowl for a non-profit position that allows me the same liberties and leadership opportunities that Kat did. I’ve done research on the few correctional facilities in the area, but I have yet to find any project that provides the kind of innovative teaching environment Conspire offered.  The difficulty I’ve faced in my internship search here has really hammered home what a true gem Conspire Theatre is.

This May 14th, Conspire is hosting an arts and crafts garage sale on the lawn of the South Congress Ave. Baptist Church. Please show your support by either donating crafts or swinging by that Saturday and making a purchase. This program merits the support of our community! And then some!

-Jessie Hillman

All of these photos are from the last day of our March – December session.  Meg asked that Jessie and Kat pose with the scarf and ball for Meg’s blog about the dancer Isadora Duncan.


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