“HOPE” - Prisoners’ Letters on Stage
“If you’re poor… you’re going to jail!... If they’re afraid of you…you’re going to jail!”
So began HOPE, one of 4 original dance creations in “Art In Response” by the Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble (CDE), which ran for 6 nights in May. Based mainly on letters that prisoners sent to Prisoners Revolutionary Literature Fund, HOPE began by depicting many reasons people, including prisoners, have no hope and ended with the liberating hope of Revolution newspaper's sharp struggle against male domination and patriarchy.
Central to this was “Men Began to ask Questions...”, where a male prisoner used the Revolution centerfold "No Means No" in a prison's drug abuse class with “Men who only the day before had argued that male domination over women was 'the natural order'…"
HOPE also used excerpts from "Last Year I decided to Study Feminism for all of 2018", "The #MeToo Movement: Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize" and "Are we going for retribution or transformation?" to make its case. This is the third of three programs that CDE created this year to empower women and men against male supremacy and patriarchy, and seek different social relations.
Over 200 people saw “Art In Response”. Many were connected to other artists and artistic companies, schools, including the Chicago Public Schools.
HOPE challenged stereotypes of many in the audience. One young man described tremendous internal struggle he went through, contrasting his own initial thought, “It’s right that Black men are in orange jumpsuits” to the content of what the actor/prisoners were saying. Another was surprised at how intellectual the prisoners’ letters are.
An ex-prisoner who transformed his life because of Revolution newspaper and other literature PRLF sent him was part of a Q & A after 2 of the 6 nights of “Art In Response”. While caged in one of America's worst dungeons, he was searching for new answers to understanding the world. He adopted and discarded devout Christianity, became a devout Muslim. When another prisoner showed him a copy of the communist newspaper Revolutionary Worker (now Revolution), he was very skeptical. He was deeply challenged by how strongly Revolution and works of Bob Avakian stood for all of humanity and spoke the truth about the problems and solutions we face. Ardea Skybreak’s The Science of Evolution, and Avakian’s “Break ALL the Chains…” were significant parts of his transformation.
The ex-prisoner told the Q & A session that HOPE accurately “nailed” prison life and struggles prisoners go through, and was very surprised that none of the actors had done time themselves. His response had a significant impact on the actors.
HOPE ended with “Men... began to ask questions like 'what can I do to stop this violence against women?” including its ending statements: “I'm writing today to thank you from the bottom of my heart for Revolution newspaper. It gave me the opportunity to share Revolutionary thought and equality with others. It is a gift I was proud and touched to be able to share. I am happy I was able to share the truth of women's equality with these men. I truly believe it will change their lives and the lives of the women they encounter in the future in a profound manner.”
Through these shows, new bridges are being built. At our request, some prisoners wrote to PRLF specifically addressing what “hope” means to them. Some in the audience volunteered their time or donated to PRLF.
HOPE was an entertaining, positive challenge to people on many different levels, exposing some of the conditions leading to mass incarceration, highlighting the similarity of struggles that people inside and outside prisons’ walls go through, and challenging men to recognize and discard male domination and patriarchy.