Friday, September 26, 2014

Will the real heroes please stand?

A most amazing event took place this week behind bars. A group of inmates who are members of an organization called SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS presented a staged reading of the play JUSTICE FOR MAURICE HENRY CARTER. The program was presented in a classroom of the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon. There have been previously staged readings of the drama or segments of it around the country, but never behind bars, and never with a cast consisting solely of prisoners.

The play is a compressed, poignant depiction of the unique relationship between an indigent black man from Gary, Indiana, and a middle-class Dutch boy from western Michigan, and their 10-year battle to overturn a wrongful conviction.

It’s important however, to identify the real heroes of the two performances this week.

I don’t mean to minimize the divine plan that put me into the life of Maurice Carter, or vice versa. I certainly don’t mean to downplay the fact that Marcia and I, our daughter Sue and our son Matthew, are still basking in the afterglow of this powerful performance. And I pay only the highest tribute to the cast who worked tirelessly for nearly a year to fashion and craft this spell-binding performance.

I have a problem with the term “hero.”

Marcia and I will readily accept the fact that we tried to do what was right for this unfairly treated man who eventually became known as my brother. And Don Molnar, who wrote the play with his wife Alicia Payne, deserves all the credit in the world for beautifully condensing the highlights of a ten-year saga into a brilliant, two-hour stage production. But we aren’t the heroes.

Let me clearly and emphatically identify the two giants in the room.

HERO NUMBER ONE: CURT TOFTELAND. Curt is the founder of SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS…an amazing program that is changing the lives of incarcerated individuals all over the country. Without his vision and personal encouragement, no dramatic presentation would have occurred this week Tuesday and Thursday.

HERO NUMBER TWO: MARY BERGHUIS. Mary is the veteran warden of Brooks CF, whom I describe as a rare warden indeed, because she has a heart. It is my contention that no other warden in the State of Michigan would have permitted prisoners in her facility to participate in a drama that
-decries the poor medical care often found in our prison system
-ridicules Michigan Parole Board demands that an inmate must confess to wrong-doing and show remorse before considering parole
-depicts the former chairman of the Parole Board as being cruel and unreasonable
-suggests that the man for whom the prison hospital is named should be ashamed
-makes no secret of the fact that some prison guards are callous and heartless!

Warden Berghuis allowed this drama to be presented in its entirety, without any editing or censorship!

Actor Jamie Studivant, whose arresting performance in the role of Maurice Carter, said it well when he reflected in the talk-back following the play: Maurice Carter is still touching lives.

But Maurice Carter would not have touched the lives of every individual in that room this week, were it not for the incredible vision of heroes Tofteland and Berghuis, who demonstrate by their very actions an absolute belief that prisoners are created in the image of God. Redemption can even occur among those who our director of corrections once labeled “the worst of the worst.”


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