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Topeka Correctional Facility group performs original drama

by admin last modified Jul 07, 2015 01:32 PM
A group of maximum- and high-medium-custody inmates writing and performing original drama productions at Topeka Correctional Facility (TCF) is finding its voice.
Topeka Correctional Facility group performs original drama

Member of I Cell House drama group

In a drama of difficult choices and conflicts involving youth in the community and inmates in a prison entitled We’re Gonna Make It, a group of women at the Topeka facility are portraying hope and faith. The group, known simply as I Cell House Performing Arts Group, performed for about 50 of their peers, staff and guests from the community in late-September and plans more productions to come.

“Each one of these ladies has been told all their lives that they can’t do something,” announced the inmate emcee of the program that was entirely written and performed by the residents of the facility. “So this was their chance to do something – to show that they can make it. They’ve been given hope, and they’ve given me hope.”

The story, about three teens on the verge of high school graduation and their interactions with friends and family - including an incarcerated relative, encourages healthy choices and hope for a brighter future. The fact that many of the women performing the drama had already run afoul of the law in their teen years is telling.

“I grew up in a house of drugs and violence,” said one woman who shared her personal story at the conclusion of the drama. “I was always told I would never be nothing, have nothing.”

After describing her hazardous past of drug abuse and prostitution, the woman received an ovation from her peers for announcing she had earned her GED, participated in other educational programs and become a peer leader in the facility.

“Everybody can make it,” she said. “I’m now gonna go through my sentence, and through the rest of my life being somebody.”

“We’ve watched the women take such a pride and ownership in the group, you can see the self-worth and self-confidence growing within them,” said TCF Warden Hope Cooper. “These are women who had already been making good choices within the facility, and this group gives them an opportunity to share their hope and their courage with others.”

The three primary characters in the drama wore face paint reminiscent of the happy/sad Janus Masks. Others wore shirts elaborately decorated for the
performance. Minimal costuming and props kept the focus on the story and the ability of the actors.

In addition to the drama and personal testimonials, the performance included a short rap and interpretive movement performances to gospel songs that gave the program a distinctly religious theme.

“They had to be (disciplinary incident) free, and they have to have had a record of staying out of trouble and shown a change in behavior to be in the group,” said First Sergeant Richard Short, who provided supervision and some guidance to the group as it wrote, planned and rehearsed for the performance. “They wrote everything, did all the artwork. It’s very impressive how much they put into it.”

“They want to do a Christmas show now,” said the woman who served as the primary writer of We’re Gonna Make It. “So I guess there’s more work to do.”

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