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Posts Tagged ‘Mary Driscoll’

On Sunday my husband and I took in the painful stories of several formerly incarcerated women who work on getting their lives back on track with Mary Driscoll at OWLL. The occasion was the performance of a collaborative theater piece called Hidden Faces of Courage.

All the women had the cards stacked against them from childhood on and had little hope of a better future after serving time. A recurring theme was the near impossibility of finding work with a criminal record.

So it was with particular interest that I read an article in UU World today about a café in North Carolina that is giving such women a second chance at life, starting with helping them earn an income.

Michelle Bates Deakin writes, “There’s a classic Catch-22 for women who have served jail time. It’s nearly impossible to get a job with a criminal record, and without a job and an income, it’s hard to keep from reoffending.

“The Rev. Melissa Mummert, a community minister in Charlotte, N.C., has dedicated the past decade to helping solve this conundrum, providing career and life coaching to female prisoners …

“In August, she helped open a new takeout restaurant in downtown Charlotte run by women released from jail. Second Helping gives formerly incarcerated women valuable job skills, income, and new starts at life.

“ ‘I kept hearing the same theme from so many women: “When I hit the jail door, I can’t get a job, because there is so much employment discrimination against people with criminal records,” ‘ said Mummert. Second Helping helps women leaving jail or prison land that all-important first job.”

Monique Maddox is one of the beneficiaries of the effort. “Maddox has worked at Second Helping since November 2011, when it opened its first coffee cart. She credits Second Helping with giving her opportunity. ‘Each and every one of us value our freedom today,’ she said. ‘I would never give it up.’ ”

More.

Photo: UU World
Rev. Mummert helped open the Second Helping café in Charlotte. It employs and trains formerly incarcerated women.

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Hidden Faces of Courage, a “theater piece with music” created by Mary Driscoll in collaboration with formerly incarcerated women, is coming soon. I will write more after I have seen the production in November, but I need to alert you that if you want tickets, you might want to get them now as the performance space is rather small. Go to Fort Point Theatre Channel, here.

I met Mary in the playwriting class that I blogged about a few times. I didn’t continue with theater after the class, but Mary kept working at this play. She has a deep commitment to helping women who have been in prison, having worked with them for years at her nonprofit, OWLL (On With Living and Learning Inc.).

Mary writes: “The voices of previously incarcerated women are notably absent in the artistic world—a world that can engage a broader community in reform and foster greater understanding between the individual and diverse audiences. Sometimes in unexpected ways.”

Read more about her show at Broadway World, Boston, here.

Hidden Faces of Courage is directed by Tasia A. Jones, with music by Allyssa Jones, and runs November 8-10, 15-17,  at The Boiler Room, 50 Melcher Street, Fort Point, Boston.

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I met Mary Driscoll in playwriting class last summer.

Mary has had a lifetime focus on social justice for marginalized people. She has traveled to foreign countries to work with refugees. For people with HIV, she has taught pilates and the healing art of telling one’s stories. She has performed with mission-oriented theater troupes. And she is the founder of  OWLL, On with Living and Learning, which helps ex-offenders build new lives after prison.

At Mary’s invitation, my husband and I found our way last night to what is a virtual artist colony in the long-abandoned but reemerging warehouse district of South Boston. In Mary’s loft apartment, one of the artists she has drawn into her orbit presented a wonderful cabaret show to raise money for OWLL’s production of Generational Legacy about mothers and children after prison.

Michael Ricca interpreted songs by Michel Legrand with great humor and feeling (including the theme song of our wedding, “What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life?”). Ricca is performing the songs and others by Legrand at Scullers in March.

My husband and I enjoyed talking to Mary’s guests  — artists, actors, musicians, social activists, old  friends. We’re especially keen to keep an eye on the doings of the Fort Point Theatre Channel in the Midway Studios building, where Mary  lives and works. The collaborative productions in the Black Box Theatre sound intriguing and offbeat. We like offbeat.

Phot0 Credit: OWLL

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I believe that people must take responsibility for their actions, that crimes should have punishments, and that every effort should be made to protect society from danger. But I don’t think society is protected if the place of punishment makes a person who committed a crime more angry and hostile than when she did it.

That’s why I like to post about the many kinds of volunteers who work with inmates to turn their hearts to better purposes. It may not always work, but it seems worth trying.

A while back, I blogged about one friend who works with ex-offenders through an organization called OWLL (On With Living and Learning: Jobs Skills for the 21st Century).

Now another friend has written about being accepted into a volunteer program at a low-level women’s prison near her home. The way this friend writes about her orientation, I can see the whole thing.

“I had a letter telling me not to bring a cell phone, smoking paraphernalia, medications, or sharp objects, and not to wear tight clothing, open-toed shoes, dangly earrings, or anything green or orange. … About half the volunteers were people of color and half were white. About a quarter spoke to one another in Spanish. More than half were middle-aged or older. One woman was in a wheelchair. So, it was a pretty diverse group. … There was lots of impressive high-tech security. There are lots of things we’re not allowed to do, like buy things for the inmates, or bring them messages. Or–and the volunteer handbook says this explicitly–help them escape or cover up an escape attempt.” (!)

Are touchy-feely prison programs all too naïve? Well, a highly skeptical prison warden at a Florida prison where there is a dance program admits that he came to see the benefit of women inmates having more-positive ways of expressing themselves:

 

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I wrote before about a program using the arts to help people in prisons get beyond the prisoner mindset. Here’s a similar story.

Michelle “Bankston, who has short, blond hair and a muscular build, has spent almost 20 years behind bars. She was incarcerated first at a medium-security facility here in Alabama, and then at a private prison in Louisiana (to relieve overcrowding, Alabama sends some inmates out of state), and finally here, at the Montgomery Women’s Facility, a sun-soused cluster of buildings on the outskirts of the capital city.

” ‘A while back I decided that I could either spend decades in the bunks, watching TV or playing cards,’ Bankston says, ‘or I could get out here and take the opportunity to write poetry and draw.’

“That she’s been given this opportunity to do her art is testament to the work of Kyes Stevens, an avuncular and outspoken educator, poet, and Alabama native. Since 2002, Ms. Stevens has headed The Alabama Prison Arts + Education Project (APAEP), which offers literature and art classes in a range of prisons across the state. The program is funded by Auburn University and an array of grants. The teaching staff consists of five Auburn-based instructors and a rotating cast of teaching fellows from the graduate creative-writing program at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Classes run for 14 weeks and are rigorously structured, like college courses, demanding a full commitment from students.”

Read the article in the Christian Science Monitor.

On a related note, I met a woman in my playwriting class who founded a nonprofit called On With Living and Learning, Inc. Mary Driscoll lives in the Fort Point Channel area of Boston and works with people who have been through the prison system. She uses theater to generate the catharsis that can result from their telling their stories and also to help them develop “job skills for the 21st century.” Read about her here. A script that Mary was working on in my playwriting class is now going to be made into an opera, with all sorts of helpers, like the Harvard-trained opera composer, the cabaret singer, and the reggae performer.

I can’t help thinking that when these creative people use their talents to help others, they are getting something special in return.

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