The Prison Story Project is:
Kathy McGregor, Storyteller and Project Director
Matt Henriksen – Creative Writing Director, Death Row
Jane Blunschi – Creative Writing Director, Women’s Prison
Jonny Schremmer – Theatre Director, Women’s Prison
Troy Schremmer – Theatre Director, Men’s Prison/Death Row
David Jolliffe – University Tour Coordinator
Shannon Wurst – Singer Songwriter, Women’s Prison
Rich Moore – “On The Row” musician
Andrew Kilgore – Project Photographer
The very first NWA Prison Story Project was presented on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012. An INSIDE performance was presented to the inmates at a women’s correction center in Northwest Arkansas and later that evening an OUTSIDE performance was presented at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. This was a first for the prison and for the community.
For four months, 12 incarcerated women met twice a week to explore the art of storytelling. They listened to each other, to guest artists, and to their own hearts. They told their stories through writing, reading, poetry, mask making, song writing, and life mapping. Their stories were collected, edited, and put together in a staged reading performed for them, their sister inmates, and prison staff at an INSIDE the prison performance and then on the OUTSIDE for the Northwest Arkansas community. Later, in December 2012, the NWA Prison Story Project found blessed sanctuary in ongoing support from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church of Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The second Prison Story Project, began on Jan. 14, 2013 and ended mid-April, 2013. Eleven women inmates met twice a week with storyteller Kathy McGregor, actress Erika Wilhite, and poet Katie Nichol, and once again began exploring the art of personal storytelling.
Their stories were performed in a staged reading INSIDE the prison on April 18, 2013, and OUTSIDE the prison on April 19, 2013, titled “Stories From the Inside Out”
The NWA Prison Story Project held its next classes as follows:
- Prison Stories III July – November, 2013
- Prison Stories IV January – April, 2014
- Prison Stories V completed Spring of 2015
These classes and performances were funded, in part, by the Mid-America Arts Alliance, with matching support from the Artist’s Laboratory Theatre and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
As we have grown, so have our audiences. Prison Stories III, IV, and V were performed to standing room only audiences (the Parish Hall at St. Paul’s has about 220 seats) and that tells us that the community the women will be returning to want to know more about them. Understand them. Learn how to welcome them. In a new and healing way for everyone.
Everyone who participates as a guest artist with Prison Stories volunteers their time to this important work. It costs approximately $2,500 for each 4 month session. When we are extra special blessed we receive enough donations at the staged reading, or in grant funding, or in-kind donations (printing, notepads, pens, books, etc) to pay stipends to the artists and actresses who bring the sacred stories of the incarcerated women we serve to life.
If you would like to participate in upcoming sessions with either your time, talent or financial contribution, please contact us!
Writing from the very first Prison Story Project:
I am in prison. I have three kids
I love dearly, two of which don’t
love me so much. My grandparents
raised me, not my mother. Must
be the underlying cause
of my maternal issues.
I love the smell of the
rain as it hits hot pavement
but not the hot pavement under
my bare feet. I love to smile
at everyone in hopes of a
smile in return. I see more
wrinkles daily around my
eyes; they weren’t there
six months ago, before I got
locked up. I wear the
same damn yellow uniforms
every day. Makes me feel
like a freakin’ squash.
Poem addressing the daddies of little girls:
This poem is a request,
begging you to remember that you are the strongest man
she will ever meet.
She will compare all others to you.
To her you hung the moon,
so don’t bring it down on her head.
This poem asks you to
Give her something to hold onto,
Somewhere to run when she is scared.
This poem is to remind you that when she makes mistakes,
help her learn from them…
not dwell in them.
Be her daddy
Not a drill sergeant.
an ol’ man drunk and
abusive – does he like
the shade of purple and
green I wear on my eyes.
minus the pain.
Angst and misery swimming inside my head,
bubbling up like water from a long since used well.
Tears streaming down my cheeks,
my face reddening like that of a toddler who
holds her breath when she doesn’t get her way.
Running inton the cool night air –
burning with a rage I don’t understand.
Screaming like a banshee –
up into the sky at a a God that only moments
ago I swore I didn’t believe in anymore.
I was so intent and focused on that rage –
never stopping to question where it stemmed
from or why I gave into it so easiy –
like the crocodile from Alice in Wonderland,
coaxing the fish into its jaws.
Looking back, I find it silly –
God is with me and anger no longer
has it’s hold on me.
I escaped the crocodile.