I have bin studying, how to compare
This Prison where I live, unto the World;
And for because the world is populous,
And heere is not a Creature, but my selfe,
I cannot do it: yet Ile hammer't out.
I was listening to a riveting performance of this monologue from The Life and Death of Richard the Second. I was not in a major Shakespeare venue in Canada, nor in a small theatre off Broadway. I was in a classroom at Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon, Michigan. And the performer was not a kingpin in the thespian world, but may have been---for all I know---a kingpin in the world of crime at one time. I know him only by a prison nicknam, Latorius, and though not a professional critic of the theatre, I can tell you that this was no simple, amateur performer. He was good.
It's a product of a program called SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS, the brainchild of Curt Tofteland, of Holland, Michigan. A select group of prisoners participate, and after completing the course in a prescribed period of time they may invite a friend to join the next time around.
I was there as the guest of Warden Mary Berghuis, although I had received a standing invitation earlier from Mr. Tofteland.
The prisoners---9 of them---came to share, to discuss Shakespeare, to compare the writings of Shakespeare to their own lives, and to memorize and perform. The discussion was intimate, feelings were placed on the table, there was laughter, there were tears. It was a magical moment.
Bless those prisoners for allowing me to sit in.
Bless Curt Tofteland for bringing this amazing program behind bars.
Bless Warden Berghuis for allowing this to happen right there in her own facility.
The playwright would have been proud!