If you have never worked with prisoners, or visited a correctional facility, in reading this book, you will be given privy to a foreign landscape. Sadly, there are over 1.5 million people living behind bars in the United States—that is more than any other country in the world, including China. Every year, 650,000 prisoners are released. Most are not given the vocational tools, social skills, training in self-presentation or marketability to successfully function in society or help restore their burnt-out communities.
Before you begin reading, you may ask, “Why should a prisoner be entitled to re-education or the experience of making art when most of us must pay dearly for this luxury?” Perhaps, if you are cynical as some corrections officers are about how prisoners benefit, you might mull over the question, “Does theatre make a prisoner a better criminal, or does theatre make a criminal better [a better citizen]? Or, maybe you will read the testimonials of the participants and wonder whether these are really the words of the monsters depicted in the nightly news.
An important premise drives an in-depth investigation like this. Our institutions are a reflection of our culture. As civilized people, how do we wish to define ourselves, as a society bent on retribution and revenge or as a society determined to correct, re-socialize and equip prisoners for the challenge of reentry without re-offending? If we choose the latter, it is our responsibility to look under every stone, try every strategy until we find what works not only to safeguard our society and to maximize the potential of the species, but to salvage each and every human being.
In gathering this material, Tocci turned over every stone. He has rescued from obscurity sound bites retrieved from hundreds of phone calls and letters, public records, private collections, and scholarly research, piecing together a living picture of three of the longest running prison theatre programs. Currently, there is a deficit of literature written about the drama-based programs in corrections, in part because the life of theses programs is so precarious, dependant on the political climate and funding. Further, human resources, which are likely to be lean, are centered on practice rather than scholarship. Virtually little or no research on theatre educational programs in United States prisons exists, except for a few press and journal articles and Jean Trounstine’s book, Shakespeare Behind Bars, whilst a small body of literature on programs in the British system has just begun to germinate.