The Kennedy Center was the location for “From Prison to Stage", a mesmerizing collection of thirteen performances written solely by prisoners and guided to the iconic center by an area resident.
The series of performances began with a a man playing a selection of tunes while playing a slow and melodic guitar. The sounds seems to flow breezily through the performance hall, and tickle the thoughts of those who dared to tap their feet or move to the gentle swaying of those purposely produced sounds - but that's where the easygoing-ness ends.
The performances are not for the faint of heart. They deal with some pretty graphic subject matter like sexual abuse, gangs, rape, murder, teenage drug use, the path to homelessness, and spousal abuse.
Dennis Sobin served as producer and area local Betty May directed the talented group of performers: Raoul Anderson, Melanie Boyer, Brandy Facey, Ed Higgins, Lisa Kays, Tommy Malek and Maxton Young-Jones; they also hail from the area.
May isn't new with working with the incarcerated. She previously developed Faces, a play that uses dialogue penned by women from the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW).
The Washington City Paper also stated:
May said one woman at MCIW, who has three PhDs and was convicted of murder, told her "We want to be heard, we want to be heard. We want our voices to be heard. And we want to make a difference in the world. We're not dead."
Higgins, one of the actors, told The City Paper, "Everyone has opinions of what prisoners are like. Our play is showing that the stereotypes aren't exactly what they're thinking. Not justification, just explanation."
The thirteen performances bring together a wide variety of issues that encompasses the world of the incarcerated and returning citizens. There were performances that involved the audience directly, a well as hard hitting pieces that related directly to the many authors' life experiences.
D.C. resident Roger Tredwell was please to attend the one day performance.
"I was really pleased to attended the event," he said. "Even-though I've never been to prison, I've seen how people who go to jail, or have been to jail, don't have a life experience much different than mine."
Long time locals are aware of the last name "Sobin." Yep, the same Sobin who in the 1980s owned and ran a brothel, produced pornographic films, and was even a mayoral candidate. He was eventually convicted of racketeering and child pornography; although he disagrees with the latter charge.
Sobin told The City Paper, "I lost my own battle, which resulted in me as a casualty, but I think the war was ultimately won. So I've been around and I've always been interested in the arts. Why can't this be done for other people?"
But Sobin can easily serve as an a example of how men and women can truly change while incarcerated. After his release from prison, he went on to aide in the founding of The SafeStreets Arts Foundation, a D.C. nonprofit organization that reaches out to incarcerated artists and helps to exhibit their artwork at affiliated art galleries. The organization also aids imprisoned playwrights and authors in getting their works out there in the public.
The actors and actresses rehearsed in the basement of St. Mary's Court in Foggy Bottom. This is the 8th year of the "From Prison to Stage" at the Kennedy Center, located at 2700 F Street NW, and the program was part of a bigger event, the Kennedy Center's 12th Annual Page-to-Stage festival, held around Labor Day every year.
One of the ushers remarked to me that the crowd was nearing three hundred and that was impressive because the bulk of the performances for the day was only averaging around one hundred or a little more.
Prince George's County resident Veronica Tyler believes the increased interest in the performance may be connect to the talk going on regarding criminal justice related issues in the media.
"The President has talked about changes in the criminal justice system and so had the U.S. Attorney General," she said with enthusiasm, " so it makes sense that hearing from those top officials and a growing public disapproval of the school to prison pipeline and disparages of blacks being searched and arrested than all other races, it all makes sense."