Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Prison Performing Arts Workshop Helps Inmates Prepare for Life Beyond Bars

Posted By on Wed, Nov 28, 2012 at 7:51 AM

Melton and Williams rehearse with PPA during their free time. The grey jumpsuits are standard-issue for inmates at MECC. - COURTESY OF PRISON PERFORMING ARTS
  • Courtesy of Prison Performing Arts
  • Melton and Williams rehearse with PPA during their free time. The grey jumpsuits are standard-issue for inmates at MECC.

"Have you done some time in prison?" asks Raynell Brandon, talking like an infomercial narrator to his fellow inmates at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Pacific.

"Having trouble adjusting to society? Solve all of your problems with our new spray, De-Institutionalize Plus! It works in seconds!"

The skit, a parody about a spray that magically eliminates the stigma of prison, is just one scene from Going Home, a production facilitated under the direction of Prison Performing Arts. Since 1989 the arts organization has put on dozens of shows and classes in correctional facilities around Missouri, but this is their first workshop to examine release and re-entry into society.

See also: --RFT's 2004 feature on PPA "All the Jail's A Stage"

Inside MECC's dingy rec room on a recent Wednesday afternoon, the inmates perform another sketch in which they daydream about homemade cherry cheesecake, bathrooms with real locks and hugs from family members. And in tongue-in-cheek fashion they extol the "virtues" of life inside this low-security facility.

"MECC is a charming gated community set in the rolling countryside just minutes away from Six Flags," comments David "Chaplain" Ross. "It offers..."

"The finest cuisine in town!" chimes in Taurees "Reese" Williams with a facetious grin, as the other inmates hold their stomachs and groan.

"Energy-efficient air conditioning in summer!" adds another prison actor, as the inmates pretend to wipe away sweat.

From the back of the room, MECC's warden Jennifer Sachse, a good sport, smiles politely.

"Special Canadian geese on the grounds!" inmate Lee Gough continues, sweeping his arm toward a concrete wall that leads to the prison yard. The men grunt once more and pantomime a regular routine: wiping bird shit off their shoes.

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