Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Trip to the Washington Corrections Center for Women (Purdy) by Bev Kelly

If you've never been to Purdy to view the play put on by the women who participate in Freehold's theatre residency program, you've missed an exciting and moving experience.

Under the inspiration and direction of Robin Lynn Smith, Freehold's Artistic Director and founder of the Engaged Theatre Program, and the Freehold volunteer artists, the inmates create the dialogue, sets, costume, music and choreography. The interaction between the audience, the performers, and the Freehold teachers is powerful; especially the comments and feelings expressed after the performance. The inmates express profound appreciation for the experience; especially love for the teachers. Many stated it was the best experience of their lives. Sincere tears of joy and gratitude for their growth and their hope for a better future were expressed.

The value of the Freehold artistic staff is priceless. They are like a mirror held up to each inmates allowing her to see herself as valuable and worthy of respect. The staff models mutual appreciation for each other and the inmates and their ideas. In their teaching the staff creates a safe space encouraging the inmates to be trusting, vulnerable and authentic.

The staff's generosity of spirit, time, talent and love allow the inmates to work thru issues and to develop positive attitudes of self. Hopefully it motivates them to be their best selves. The teachers will never know the far-reaching effect they have in the lives of these women.

The first time I visited Purdy, I was apprehensive not knowing what to expect. I had feelings of superiority, thinking - they're bad law breakers, but I'm good ... I don't have anything in common with them. How could I relate to them?

But soon I realized that these women were no different than people you see every day on the street. In fact, we're all a work in progress. Given different circumstances and/or choices, I or any family members could wind up here. They didn't seem to be resentful toward us, the society that incarcerated them. Their open warmth toward an audience of mostly strangers replaced my disconnect with an authentic and comfortable love connection. I enjoyed our fellowship and knew they are no different from myself.

The women in the residency seemed to develop a sense of belonging, bonding and working together toward a common goal. They also clearly had a feeling of success at the end of performance. Nothing succeeds like success. When you've proven what you are capable of and have experienced success, you gain self-confidence and self-love. You see yourself in a new way - valuable and worthy. It encourages you to be your best self.

This Engaged Theatre project demonstrates what theatre can accomplish. The hard work in developing the play was key. Joy in this process was at least as important as the end restult. As far as the performance - in that time and place we were connected, a gift to each other. And hopefully we all grew into more compassionate human beings.

It is an honor to be associated with such an incredibly valuable adventure. Thank you for allowing me to be part of the transformation!

Bev Kelly has been an invaluable contributor to Freehold over the years in many capacities. She is solely responsible for the creation of the Bev Kelly Library at Freehold (photo at left) which includes thousands of theatre books that Bev has donated to Freehold over the years. The library is available to all Freehold students free of charge.

This year's Freehold's residency at the Washington Women's Correctional Center will culminate in a performance Monday, April 4. Guests to the event must provide clearance information of their legal name, date of birth and social security number by 3:00 pm on Monday, March 7 to attend this very special performance. Contact Kate Gavigan at Freehold at (206) 323-7499 by Monday, March 7th if you are interested in attending.

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