I’ve Been Teaching Theatre in Prison for 8 Years

3년 전

Now I’m looking to the future - and the development of a sustainable theatre program at Monroe Correctional in WA. Some of my readers will remember some of my blogs earlier this year talking about a 5-month program I ran to devise an original play about American violence with 27 men incarcerated at the unit.


The project was amazing, and for the very first time, ever the DOC allowed me to bring in an outside audience of 25 guests from the community. I was able to bring in Artistic Directors, Executive Directors, local artists and city employees to see the final work - and it became an incredible way of building support and interest for the future of the program. To note: I’ve been working at Monroe for 3 years, and in the prison system as a whole for about 8).


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Today I’m writing to give you an update on the program and share a bit more background about why I do it, and what I need to work on in the next few months before 2019 kicks off!

Since the performance in June, I’ve been engaged in ongoing meetings with students and University Beyond Bars staff with the goal of creating a stable, ongoing theatre program on the site. And, I’m excited to announce that I just received an $8,000 CityArtist grant from the Seattle Office of Arts and Culture to help sustain this work!

Immediate next steps include:


1) Piloting a 3-week, 6-session Intro to Improv and Social Justice series Feb-Mar 2019 at the MSU minimum security unit. I will teach a Masterclass this winter in preparation.

2) Working with UBB to create a spring/summer theatre series at WSR, medium security.
Details TBD, spring/summer planning will happen over the next two months.

3) Planning a public performance offering for fall 2019
Part of my contract with the city must include a public performance within Seattle. This will likely take the form of a staged reading of student work at a local theatre, with professional actors as well as community members participating.

4) Forming a Public Steering Committee for the project
I’ve already had several individuals pledge their willingness to help raise long-term support and awareness for this kind of work. Community is key!

5) Working with Earthseed Seattle to commission two UBB playwrights to write scripts for a trauma-informed HS theatre program. Each playwright will receive a $250.00 stipend for their work, to ensure we place value on their contributions.


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So - why do I do this?

Well, I grew up on a school bus, in a low-income rural community, and I’m a first generation college student. I don’t have a HS diploma, or a GED (surprise!), but I did manage to become quite educated and even attended NYU for grad school. I’ve never had an easy time buying into the popular majority of any community, but I do have an ability to see the people on the margins - and to help others see them too. Education and white privilege have given me class mobility, and I strive to use whatever position I have to be an accomplice to folkx with less power.

I started working in prisons when I was 22. I’m 30 now - and the work continues. I never intended for prison theatre to be a defining aspect of my work as an artist, but once I made real-life relationships within these communities I realized that I had no other option.

My ultimate goal in creating this program is to build a platform for people incarcerated within Washington state to share their stories, and break down stereotypes the public hold about the characteristics of a “prisoner”. Some of my students are activists, some are anime nerds, and some dream of being in a musical. I want to create a program that allows the public to see these men for who they truly are, including all the quirks that make them so very special.


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How am I going to make this all work?

Doing this sustainably will require funding. I’ve been working at Monroe for over three years entirely as a volunteer. While I love it, I’m not able to go 52 weeks a year, and I know I cannot realistically promise to do it forever. That being said - I want these guys to have a forever program. The concepts of “time” and “commitment” are deeply felt in this environment and I am highly aware that I have the privilege of walking away whenever I want.

The most direct way to accomplish sustainability is funding. In funding this program - in particular the human labor needed to staff it - I will ensure that I can always replace myself (even if temporarily) with qualified, passionate candidates. These students deserve this.

The other key element is community engagement and buy-in. I’m honored that I’ve been able to share this experience on steemit with all of you, it just expands out the circle of people who know about it all happening! Thanks for being a part of it - and I will say that payouts from my spring posts very nearly would have covered all my gas for the session if the market hadn’t dropped. ;)


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For today - I’ll leave off here - although I always have more to say about this work. I’ll be sure to keep sharing updates on what I’m up to and what we’re working on in the coming months!


Check out more of my work @lilyraabe and below:
🎨 Let’s Talk About Art 🎨 | GIVING AWAY SBI SHARES!!
The Future is Female: U.S. Election Results - many firsts!
Chasing Wild Horses in South Dakota | Photo Album
Making Terrariums | Photo Album and Tutorial!
Salty Dog | Entry to @Axeman’s Seascape Contest
Exploring Yellowstone National Park | Photo Album
Two for One | A QUIET PLACE Movie Review (entry for Steemitbloggers Contest) + Halloween Watchlist Results!
Exploring the Lewis & Clark Caverns in Montana | Photo Album
I Have a Long-Term Relationship with Marijuana
Quick Trip to Franklin Falls | WA State
Ultimate Halloween Watchlist Contest - 6sbd to giveaway
Exploring Crater Lake - one of the 7 Wonders of Oregon | Photo Album
Exploring Ruby Beach on the Olympic Peninsula | Photo Album
A Summer’s Worth of Adventures | Photo Album
Offering an Explanation
How I Got Here: a poem about existence


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All photos from Unsplash


Thanks for stopping by!
BIG LOVE, Lily

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What an excellent idea, and you've got so much passion to share!

I am also part of a program that works with people who are incarcerated. The goal is to provide them with training in prison and then remove their barriers to success upon release through job placement (and further training), housing, and transportation. It's awesome to see you focus on giving them a way to tell their own stories. It's much needed!

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That is so awesome! How long have you been doing that? The programs that help to bridge the transition back into outside life are so vitally important - thank you for doing that work!

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It's a new program actually. We are still working on getting it off the ground. We hope to launch the in-prison training in June or July of next year, and have the housing secured and ready by September or October.

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Oh wow, that is super cool. Also really interesting to hear there’s housing attached to the program, that’s great!

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I'm pretty excited about it. If you want to learn a bit more, check out The FairCosa Foundation over on WEKU. It's still in its infancy, so there isn't much info just yet. Tips on running a successful volunteer organization would be greatly appreciated.

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Wow - that’s awesome. Looked at your intro post and the model seems super rad. Are you incorporated 501(c)3? There’s honestly probably some decent grant funding to consider - maybe starting with the city to see what kinds of grant programs they administer. There’s often good pockets of change around for direct service work like this. :)

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We are working on the 501(c)3 status right now. I believe we just have to file the bylaws with the IRS and we should be good to go. We've already filed as a nonprofit with the state, so we're good on that front.

There's a website called GrantSpace that I've been checking into regarding funding opportunities. I don't think it's just local either. I bet you could find some good grants there too if you haven't already.

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Awesome! I’ve used Grantspace, it’s pretty good, but I subscribe every week to GrantWatch so that’s my go-to. My “day job” gig is writing grants for loads of people and that one seems to bring up a lot of fresh things on my list regularly. Good luck out there in getting all this sorted, and I’m excited to see updates if you write about where the project is going here on steemit!


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This is such a great project and I'm happy that you can continue doing it. I admire people doing something for others and your story is very inspirational to me :)

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Thank you so much for that support, I appreciate it. :)

What a great work you do. It must not be easy but hopefully the rewards overcome the difficult moments.

It's good that prisoners have a way to acquire skills and knowledge that they might use in the future. Or else they won't stand a chance when they return to society...

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You’re so right - it’s cool working with University Beyond Bars because they help the guys get their Associates and Bachelors degrees too...plus the students work on administrative committees so they learn about nonprofit management, grant writing, and acquire other professional skills.

I hope you will manage to get more funds and turn this into a permanent thing. It's an admirable and maybe ground-breaking initiative that shows everyone art can touch all souls.

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Thank you so much! I’m workin’ on it, haha. Appreciate the support!

What a wonderful thing to do. You must love it. I hear you about working in the margins and using your privelege.

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Thank you so much for stopping by - and yes, I absolutely love it. It’s honestly one of the very best parts of my life.

You do such good work, Lily, how wonderful to give inmates freedom like that and art-therapy. Onwards & upwards, my artivist friend. You're an inspiration & making a deep, lasting difference in the lives of others. <3

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Hey @yahialababidid, thank you so much for those kind words. This work is my privilege - and an honor to get to share it here! Appreciate all that you do as well, every action helps! <3

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We each do what we can, with what we have, my friend <3

That is so cool that you got a grant to continue/expand the program! This is a really amazing project you have been working on, I can only imagine the challenge but also the rewards in terms of the work actually being fulfilling on the "I am making a huge difference in someone's life" way. Love - Carl

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Thanks so much Carl, I was super stoked. And also - getting to pay for gas and a few necessities along the way is going to make the whole thing easier and more relaxed. It’s a big win - and as you say extremely rewarding. Appreciate the support! :)

Here showing my support @lilyraabe! 👨‍🎨

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This is awesome - blessed are you for the work you do

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It’s my privilege to do it - thanks for stopping by to check out the post!

There are no words to describe your job, simply amazing.

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Thank you for checking out the post! :)

Your post has been selected as #adsactlyspostoftheday :)

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Oh wow, thank you so much that’s such an honor :)

This looks like a great initiative. I wish you the best of luck in it and much success. It makes me think of ways I can take poetry into a local prison here where I am. Any suggestions on how to get started?

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That would be awesome! I recommend looking for a local organization that is already bringing people inside - there might be something like University Beyond Bars in your region. The reason I say this is that working directly with the DOC can be tricky, and an organization can help with all the complicated stuff like filing paperwork and getting clearance. If there’s not an ed/art/service org already going inside - there are usually a lot of faith-based groups operating in any setting who might be willing to sponsor something like this as I believe that art feeds the soul. :)

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Excellent points. I'll check into that. Would you recommend asking the prison if they have someone working inside in this manner? There's a state pen just around the corner from me.

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You can try - there’s most likely a volunteer coordinator attached to the prison - they’d probably be the one to try to talk to about opportunities to get inside.

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Awesome. Thanks!

Your post has been selected as the @steemiteducation Post of the Day:)

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Wow, thank you so much!