All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts...
I've heard those lines by Shakespeare many times, but never like this.
I was sitting in a large circle in the gymnasium of Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon, and the actor so powerfully delivering these lines was a convicted criminal. One after another of these thespians stood up and recited their lines flawlessly...obviously the result of hours and hours of memorization.
I was a special guest at SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS, a national program that is the brainchild of our special friend Curt Tofteland.
Why Shakespeare, in this environment? Well, here's how Curt explains it:
"Shakespeare Behind Bars was founded on the beliefs that all human beings are inherently good, and that although convicted criminals have committed heinous crimes against other human beings, this inherent goodness still lives deep within them and must be called forth. Participation in the program can effectively change our world for the better by influencing one person at a time, awakening him or her to the power and the passion of the goodness that lives within all of us.
"Shakespeare Behind Bars offers participants the ability to hope and the courage to act despite their fear and the odds against them. By immersing participants in the nine-month process of producing a Shakespeare play, Shakespeare Behind Bars uses the healing power of the arts, transforming inmate offenders from who they were when they committed their crimes, to who they are in the present moment, to who they wish to become."
But this is only part of the story. SBB in Brooks is producing the play JUSTICE FOR MAURICE HENRY CARTER, to be presented later this year. I actually watched two wonderful inmate/actors portraying Maurice Carter and me! How neat is that? A thrill beyond imagination!
I am indebted to all of these actors, to Curt, and to my special friend James O'Neal for making this happen.
An experience like no other.