Student helps bring inmates’ stories to life at Kennedy Center

Media Credit: Delaney Walsh | Photo Editor

Cast members Raul Anderson, left, and Maxton Young-Jones, right, perform a skit where Anderson plays a dying man hesitant to forgive his wife's murderer. Young-Jones portrays an insightful talking dog that preaches the power of forgiveness.

“The kids don’t need comedy, they need honesty,” May told the inmates.

With May’s help, the finished scripts present visceral accounts from convicts, including a scene featuring a prisoner tormented by sadistic guards.

Young-Jones, a dramatic literature major, said the heavy material shifted his perception of the incarcerated and their treatment.

“A lot of these people should be in prison, but we don’t think about them,” Young-Jones said. “We don’t provide for their needs in an adequate way.”

May heard stories from prisoners firsthand and shared anecdotes about their lives with the actors to help them connect with the people they portrayed.

Young-Jones also informed his acting by reading prisoners’ unedited scripts and studying their original syntax.

“We read their original plays to figure out what had been changed, what their mental stage was, because it’s very useful to know what they were thinking while they were writing it,” Young-Jones said.

The emotional commitment was accompanied by an intensive rehearsal schedule, which demanded daily three-hour rehearsals in the two weeks leading up to opening night.

Dennis Sobin, director of Prisons Foundation, an organization focused on enriching prisoners’ lives through art, helped bring the inmates’ scripts to life after May submitted their drafts to him.

Sobin said he hoped the show highlighted the experiences of society’s marginalized.

“People are affected by public opinion, but they’re not affected by what the inmates say within the prison,” Sobin said. “Now [inmates] have a voice in the world.”

– Allison Kowalski contributed to this report.

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