Friday, October 19, 2007

If Only I Could See the Ocean (Amy Carol Webb)

Female inmates tell stories through art

An arts program is helping inmates share the harsh realities of prison in the hope of helping at-risk girls avoid the same fate.

Posted on Sun, Oct. 14, 2007

On a miserable gray day near the edge of the Everglades, past thickets of razor wire, doors guarded 24/7, past the sounds of a woman screaming at the voices in her head, a dozen women sit in a circle in a place they call Wellness.

In this bright room with its under-the-sea mural, these women with terrible stories to tell and hard experiences to share become writers, dancers, performers, poets, artists, singers, playwrights.

Outside of this circle, an oasis that is created for two hours each Saturday, 11 of the women are inmates at the Broward Correctional Institution in Pembroke Pines. Eight are serving life sentences for murder. And in the years before their crimes, many of these perpetrators also were the victims of violence and abuse.

In the past 13 years, dozens of female inmates have shared their stories with Leslie Neal, an associate professor of dance at Florida International University and founder of ArtSpring, a nonprofit organization that brings an arts program called Inside Out to women in prison. On Thursday, some of that painful, creative work goes public at Any One of Us: Words from Prison. A benefit featuring Vagina Monologues creator Eve Ensler and singer-songwriter Amy Carol Webb, the event -- staged by Neal, with original music by Webb, dance pieces, video of prisoners talking about their lives and readings by a cast that includes community leaders and former inmates -- is set for 8 p.m. at Miami's Gusman Center for the Performing Arts.

Full story here...

I was very lucky to find myself the recipient of an extra ticket to see the above production, for which my friend (and talented songwriter) Amy Carol Webb composed and performed original tunes - the play was moving beyond description, as actresses (and a handful of women who had actually been incarcerated) told the stories of others through monologues, dance movements, video and music.

Eve Ensler spoke her heart before the closing song (Amy's stunningly-crafted title track) and there was a question and answer session at the end... after a resounding and lengthy standing ovation - I am honored to have been in the audience for this event, and hope to continue to spread the word of the plight of women in prison, as well as finding ways to help. Also, Eve announced the upcoming Dome of Love in New Orleans in April 2008, as musicians/actresses/caregivers from around the country will focus their attention on the women affected by Hurricane Katrina - I'll post details as they unfold.

SONG: If Only I Could See the Ocean by Amy Carol Webb (audio sample)

BOOK: Wall Tappings: An International Anthology of Women's Prison Writings 200 to the Present by Tracy Huling (Foreword), Judith A. Scheffler (Editor)

POEM: Some Advice to Those Who Will Serve Time in Prison by Nazim Hikmet (Translated by Mutlu Konuk and Randy Blasing)

If instead of being hanged by the neck
you're thrown inside
for not giving up hope
in the world, your country, and people,
if you do ten or fifteen years
apart from the time you have left,
you won't say,
"Better I had swung from the end of a rope
like a flag"--
you'll put your foot down and live.
It may not be a pleasure exactly,
but it's your solemn duty
to live one more day
to spite the enemy.
Part of you may live alone inside,
like a stone at the bottom of a well.
But the other part
must be so caught up
in the flurry of the world
that you shiver there inside
when outside, at forty days' distance, a leaf moves.
To wait for letters inside,
to sing sad songs,
or to lie awake all night staring at the ceiling
is sweet but dangerous.
Look at your face from shave to shave,
forget your age,
watch out for lice
and for spring nights,
and always remember
to eat every last piece of bread--
also, don't forget to laugh heartily.
And who knows,
the woman you love may stop loving you.
Don't say it's no big thing:
it's like the snapping of a green branch
to the man inside.
To think of roses and gardens inside is bad,
to think of seas and mountains is good.
Read and write without rest,
and I also advise weaving
and making mirrors.
I mean, it's not that you can't pass
ten or fifteen years inside
and more--
you can,
as long as the jewel
on the left side of your chest doesn't lose its luster!

QUOTE: "We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit." ~ e. e. cummings


  1. Saw Eve Ensler present this last year at Avery Fisher hall with her NY women from prison writing group. Her panel were broadway actresses and the survivors of Domestic Violence and incarceration. Mindy McGready sang and spoke about her own battered relationship

    Eve Ensler is an amazing example of how one person can change the world

  2. Hey, sharon ~

    It's such a powerful event, made even more poignant by the fact they're using the stories of each city/region to illustrate the problem... and to look for solutions - Eve Ensler has been a She-Ra to me for years (so articulate and pro-active)...

    In fact, she mentioned they're already planning for V-Day 2008 in April in New Orleans, to help the women of Hurricane Katrina - she didn't name names, but said there were many actresses and musicians involved and it would take place in the SuperDome...