Saving Lives with Shakespeare

Can you imagine teaching Shakespeare to men in solitary confinement?  And by that I mean men who are actually locked in 23 out of 24 hours a day behind metal doors with only a slit to see through into the hallway?  And along with that, try picturing a woman who sits in that hallway, coaching those men as they speak Shakespeare's lines aloud talking to other men who they cannot see?

This is the mission of Laura Bates, an amazing woman who is an associate professor at Indiana University and in 2003 began teaching in Wabash Correctional in Indiana.  In an article for an Indiana State U publication, Bates says "We are the only Shakespeare program in the segregated unit in solitary confinement anywhere in the world….Never before attempted….never duplicated either."

The process according to the article:  "Two officers escort each man into an individual cell in a separate unit inside segregated housing. Bates, as shown above,  sits in the small hallway between eight individual cells with the imprisoned men sitting behind metal doors peering, talking and listening through open rectangular cuff ports."

I met Laura Bates when we presented together along with others who had used Shakespeare behind bars and I was knocked out by her work.  She has a book coming out in April:  Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary With the Bard , so hopefully we'll all be able to read more about her and understand this work.  She focuses on one particular prisoner and hence the title.  Larry felt Shakespeare saved his life.

The men Laura encounters have committed violent offenses behind bars, and thus they are sent to solitary; some have committed horrible crimes.  But no prisoner is only their crime.  Laura's work points up the idea that to label people us un-redeemable belies their humanity.  They are not  "the worst of the worst" as often referred to in article after article.  They are men who are also human beings indebted to the chance to turn their pain, loss, rage and deprivation into words.  Bravo Laura.

2 thoughts on “Saving Lives with Shakespeare

  1. Inspiring. My comment is that I want to know why/how Larry felt that Shakespeare saved his life. Perhaps you can write that in a subsequent blog.

  2. Good idea!  I may have to wait to hear what Larry has to say when I read Laura Bates's book but if I can find out more about how prisoners feel about performing Shakespeare, you're right — a great blog.