Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Photo by Scott Anderson/Racine Journal Times
On December 7, Haisan Williams, an ex-offender and veteran of The Shakespeare Prison Project, took the stage at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, where he shared his story in an event titled The Road to Redemption.
Tuesday, October 22, 2013
SHAKESPEARE BEYOND BARS:
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 7, 2013 at 2:00 PM
STUDIO THEATRE A
RITA TALLENT PICKENS REGIONAL CENTER FOR THE ARTS AND HUMANITIES
UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN-PARKSIDE
SPONSORED BY THE CENTER FOR ETHNIC STUDIES,
THE DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNICATION, AND
THE CERTIFICATE PROGRAM IN CONFLICT ANALYSIS AND RESOLUTION
On Saturday, December 7, Mr. Williams will take the stage again, this time at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, where he will share his stories of struggle and survival, perform a scene from Othello, and take questions from the audience. The event, which will be hosted by Shakespeare Prison Project Director Jonathan Shailor, begins at 2:00 pm in Studio Theatre A of the Rita Tallent Pickens Regional Center for the Arts and Humanities, and is free to the public. Donations to the UW-Parkside Prison Outreach Fund are appreciated. For more information: Contact Jonathan Shailor: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 262-893-2857.
Below: Haisan performs his original prologue, composed for The Muddy Flower Theatre Troupe production of JULIUS CAESAR.
Monday, October 7, 2013
Saturday, October 5, 2013
Monday, September 16, 2013
BY JILL TATGE-ROZELL
SOMERS,WISCONSIN — The language of Shakespeare was “alien” to inmate Megale Taylor when he was introduced to it at the Racine County Correctional Center, he told a group at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside Sunday.
It was far from the slang and street talk Taylor, now 43, used growing up in the Robert Taylor Housing Project on the south side of Chicago.
But, the plight of the characters was something Taylor could relate to. The characters he portrayed on stage as part of the Shakespeare Prison Project — from a fool to Marc Anthony — provided insight into his own psyche.
The project was developed by Parkside communication professor Jonathan Shailor, who is now teaching a conflict resolution course in the correctional center.
In front of an intimate group of 18 in Studio A of the Rita Tallen Picken Regional Center for Arts and Humanities, Shailor and Taylor performed scenes from the plays they worked on together from 2004 to 2008, including, “King Lear,” “Othello,” “The Tempest” and “Julius Caesar.” It is a program Shailor hopes to gain approval to continue at the jail.
Life lessons in characters
“I saw myself in the character of The Fool,” Taylor said, of the “King Lear” character, adding it was not because this character was a jester, but because the fool had the wisdom to show a king the mistakes he was making. “I found confidence in that character. It helped me dig deep into the layers of myself.”
Portraying Roderigo in “Othello” helped Taylor work through feelings of low self-esteem, while playing Stefano, a drunken butler in “The Tempest,” provided a looking glass into the dysfunction caused by his past chemical abuse. “It made me see how messed up I was,” Taylor said.
From prison to Shakespeare
As a teen, Taylor became involved in gangs and drugs. He spent most of his adult life living on the street or in prison.
In 2002, he was arrested on charges of battery and cocaine delivery. In the end, he served six years in prison for his crimes.
He said “he found himself” through the the Shakespeare Prison Project.
Taylor said his last performance, as Marc Anthony, symbolized a “metamorphosis” in his character.
“I could see all the things I wanted to see in myself,” he said of playing that role.
Shailor said the inmates learn more than how to act. They also gain insight into themselves and others — the “subtle, complex aspects of the human condition” that only Shakespeare can reveal, he said.
Each participant kept a journal during the experience.
They also develop skills that help them transition back into society, such as teamwork and communication skills, Shailor said.
Taylor is attending Northcentral Technical College in Wausau to become a computer support specialist and works at a deli.
Earlier this year, he appeared in a production of “The Death of Innocents,” a play by the anti-death-penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean.
“Theater has opened my eyes to humanity,” Taylor said.
LINK TO ORIGINAL ARTICLE:
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Friday, May 31, 2013
Why prison education?
Studies conducted over the last two decades almost unanimously indicate that higher education in prison programs reduces recidivism and translates into reductions in crime, savings to taxpayers, and long-term contributions to the safety and well-being of the communities to which formerly incarcerated people return.
Recent research on prison education programs presents discouraging statistics on the current recidivism rate. The Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) reported in 2011 that nearly 7 in 10 people who are formerly incarcerated will commit a new crime, and half will end up back in prison within three years. Given that about 95 out of every 100 incarcerated people eventually rejoin society, it is crucial that we develop programs and tools to effectively reduce recidivism.
Prison education is far more effective at reducing recidivism than boot camps, “shock” incarceration or vocational training, according to the National Institute of Justice. In 2001, the Correctional Education Association’s “Three State Recidivism Study” quantified this reduction, demonstrating that correctional education lowered long-term recidivism by 29 percent.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Robert Mentzer column: 'Theater alone changed my life'
Published in The Wausau Daily Herald on April 17, 2013
Megale Taylor stepped out of Racine Correctional Institution almost exactly three years ago, on April 14, 2010. The next day was his 40th birthday.
From the time he dropped out of high school at 17, Taylor lived a life of petty crime and drug addiction, no structure, no goals. He started smoking marijuana as a teen but by the time he was in his 20s he had graduated to crack cocaine. In 2002, he was arrested on charges of battery and cocaine delivery. In the end, he served six years in prison for his crimes.
“Everything came into focus in that six-year stint,” Taylor told me in an interview last week. “I realized, I’m too old for this. I have to change my life. ... And I just got tired. I got tired.”
Re-entering society is hard and Taylor did struggle to find his footing. But he avoided falling back into drugs and crime. He found God in prison, he told me, and he connected with church families in Wausau when he got out. And he felt he knew himself in a way he never had before.
“I had a new beginning when I got out of prison,” said Taylor, whose first name is pronounced like “Miguel.” “I looked at myself with new eyes.”
On Monday, Taylor turned 43. He has a year left before earning his degree at Northcentral Technical College as a computer support specialist. He has a sense of life goals, a sense of what he wants his future to be that he never had before. This weekend, he will appear in the River District Theatre group’s production of “The Death of Innocents,” a play by the anti-death-penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean.
And in a way, Taylor’s path back to society began when he was introduced to the plays of William Shakespeare.
'Theater has opened my eyes'
Taylor is a graduate of the Shakespeare Prison Project, a program in the Racine prison that was administered by Jonathan Shailor, a communications professor at University of Wisconsin-Parkside. In four years, Taylor played The Fool in “King Lear,” the scheming Roderigo in “Othello,” the drunken butler Stephano in “The Tempest” and, his most intense role, Marc Antony in “Julius Caesar.”
“Theater has opened my eyes to humanity,” Taylor said. “In fact, theater alone changed my life. It opened my eyes to humanity, emotional intelligence, empathy.”
For inmates, being involved in a theatrical production works on many levels, Shailor said in a telephone interview. There’s the simple act of working as a team, learning to trust others and overcome obstacles. There’s the sense of accomplishment for the men at being part of something larger than themselves.
But it’s more than that. Theater teaches things that another discipline can’t, Shailor said: It’s empathy and humanity, but it also provides illustrations of how decisions have consequences. Theater invites actors to identify with the characters — their own, of course, but also others in the play — and also demonstrates the way each individual character’s actions affect the rest of the play’s world.
“It’s an ethics lesson, an opportunity to practice empathy or understanding, to look at conflict from a holistic perspective,” Shailor said. “And it stretches you beyond yourself.”
Shailor worked with the inmates for nine months per play in what he called a fairly intensive program that helped them master each play, make it their own. That is a real accomplishment. It’s scaling a mountain.
When he entered the program, Shailor said, Taylor “had some issues with self-esteem, with feeling that he couldn’t get along with other people. It was really something he grappled with, and I saw him get better at dealing with it.
“When he played The Fool, he was not sure of himself at first,” Shailor said. “Then something clicked with him in his ability to speak the language, to feel comfortable speaking the language. ... He confronted his demon and I think he overcame it.”
A love for people
On Friday, Taylor will take the stage for the first time since he left prison. In “Death of Innocents,” he plays Dobie Gillis Williams, a poor black man from Louisiana who was executed in 1999 for a murder that Prejean, in her life and in the play, contends he did not commit.
The play, which runs through Sunday — visit www.riverdistricttheatre.org or call 715-298-9250 for tickets — is heavy, and in some ways it’s written to make viewers uncomfortable.
“I can see the injustice that’s taking place within the play, and I can dig deeper into that character and what he’s going through,” Taylor said. “It’s a really emotional role.”
Taylor is not nervous; he’s on a mission. He feels he has a story to tell and a desire to tell it — through theater itself and by talking about and sharing his own experiences.
“I really have an ambition and a love for people,” Taylor said. “I love people and I want to help people accomplish their goals, like I’m accomplishing mine.”