Shakespeare in Prison (SIP), Detroit Public Theatre’s (DPT) signature community program, empowers incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people to reconnect with their humanity and that of others; to reflect on their past, present, and future; and to gain the confidence, self-esteem, and crucial skills they need to heal and positively impact their communities. SIP has been going strong at Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility (Ypsilanti) since 2012; we have also worked at Parnall Correctional Facility (Jackson) and several youth facilities. Our post-release program offers SIP alumni ongoing mentoring for professional development and support.
Michigan’s correctional facilities are currently closed to all visitors and programs—including SIP—as a safety precaution during the coronavirus pandemic. For nearly six months, incarcerated people have been confined to their housing units (in some cases, to their cells). The lack of in-person contact with loved ones, programs, and classes to occupy their time exacerbates their sense of uncertainty, stasis, fear, and isolation. They are desperate for connection, community, and hope—the very things that have drawn ensemble members to Shakespeare in Prison for eight years.
Though we cannot work with them in person, we have found a way to sustain our connection by sending ensemble members Shakespeare-based activity packs to help alleviate their isolation, boredom, and fear. Each activity pack consists of a piece of Shakespeare’s text and prompts for intellectual stimulation, creative expression, and self-reflection.
Creative responses have begun arriving at our office. One is a scrapbook made by two members of the women’s ensemble, accompanied by a cover letter that begins, “We would like to start off by saying that we appreciate your thoughts of us during this horrific time. We do not take light or undermind [sic] our appreciation for what Shakespeare in Prison is, or what it has done to affect us personally!”
Funded by Ann Arbor, MI (September 2020)