Former Lackawanna County Prison Inmates and Education Department Students Unite for Original Play
Though they may not seem the most likely two crowds to get together, a group of University of Scranton students and former Lackawanna County Prison inmates joined forces to deliver stories – both their own and others’ – of triumph and happiness, isolation and sorrow.
Ten education majors and three former inmates took the stage for a performance of “We Rise,” written and directed by award winning playwright Nancy Hasty, on May 3 in a packed Moskovitz Theater. The idea for the play stemmed from a collaboration between the University’s Education Department and Hasty, who has conducted arts programs at the prison for the past five years.
While their situations and backgrounds vary drastically, the women demonstrated that they all shared at least one thing in common: a struggle with emotions. “We all have our own prisons,” Hasty said. “Prison is a state of mind.”
The production served as a means to raise awareness of the former inmates’ experiences and how ignored and unaddressed problems in their early lives affected their decisions later on in life. For the eight middle-level education majors and two elementary/ special education majors, their aim was to help recognize telling signs of students with emotional behavior problems during their future teaching careers.
The women opened the performance describing their childhood bedrooms, with the students citing their spaces as safe havens—places to escape, work, and think, all while read to or tucked in by their parents. One former inmate contrasted their warm descriptions with an illustration a 9-year-old girl growing up without parents, suffering sexual abuse from a friend’s father, and developing a criminal record by age 19. “This girl I’m talking about is me,” she said.
Not only did the performers share sorrowful accounts of women who were only a few blocks away at the county prison, but students who attend the University, too – further proving the two groups had more in common than initially thought.
While the play highlighted some of the most heartbreaking moments the women had experienced, it didn’t fail to spotlight the moments of joy as well. For instance, one former inmate shared her top-of-the-world feeling as a speaker for “Dress for Success” at the Hilton Ballroom. Her dinner partner for the occasion: the judge who sent her to prison. A student recounted a moment of realization during her last day student teaching second-graders. “I had become the teacher that inspires, motivates and reaches the hearts of each of her students.”
Following the performance, the cast received much praise and gratitude from the audience for sharing their stories with honesty and bravery during a questions and comments period. While the women agreed it was initially strange when they first got together to rehearse, they said they developed a love and appreciation for another, and not to mention a priceless learning experience.