Incarcerated Women Make History Going on Tour to Perform “A Christmas Carol” | University of Denver

(gentle music) – Hi everyone. My name is Ashley Hamilton. I’m the Director of the
DU Prison Arts Initiative. – Hi, I’m Dean Williams and I’m the Executive Director for
the Department of Corrections. (clapping) – What’s happening here today is the most amazing, groundbreaking thing I think that could ever
be in collaboration with two entities. – [Ashley] This production
is six months in the making, but I think this event and having our incarcerated cast and
crew out in the public and at the University of Denver is decades in the making. – There are 27 incarcerated women that are in the Newman Center
in the Byron Theater today. And we are putting on one of the, I think, the best versions
of “A Christmas Carol” ever. (laughs) – [Dean] We are changing the prison system one theatre show at a time. (clapping)
(cheering) – Our crew that is here from Denver Women’s Correctional Facility is all incarcerated. Our cast is all incarcerated. Which means they designed and put together all the lights for the show. They created all the sound which is actually being performed live here in the venue. They designed all of the costumes and the makeup, the hair,
and in combination with the actors, they’ve created this beautiful piece of theater. – [Ashley] They have worked so hard and they can’t wait to
show you what they’ve got. Thank you so much for being with us. (clapping) – You feel this energy of like a unity amongst us, and I know that’s just been through the six months of practice that we’ve put in working so hard at this. And when you’re in prison, that doesn’t always come so easily. And I know that that’s
what Ashley’s goal is, and I know that’s what
Director Williams’ goal is, is to make a healthy inside community, that we grow in. So when we leave prison, ’cause most of us will
leave prison eventually, that we will be much better human beings. – As a foundation of the
DU Prison Arts Initiative, when I think about our
real aim, it is that. That we’re really committed to creating space in an (muffled speaking) community. I always say, I don’t
know how good our play is, but we don’t like each other. And you can’t show up for each other, if you can’t take care of each other, that’s our real job here. (cheers) Having something like this come to DU, come to the public, is just an amazing vote of confidence in the
progress that is being made in this system. And for the University of Denver to be the one to do that, amazing. I mean, this is giving a platform for people that are yearning to speak, and yearning to tell a story. And to give that platform means so much. And it is, it’s history in the making. – The ability to speak,
the ability to be proud of what I have to offer in life. Yes, I know that that will take me very far in my life. – It matters. It changes the atmosphere. People that normally wouldn’t speak are now thinking hi, and it just makes people be nicer, and it makes people acknowledge people that they wouldn’t acknowledge before. – Arts, throughout all
of history of humanity, have given us the human experience, in a way we can be felt. We can feel each other’s emotion that way. And I think through
bringing that into prison, it’s allowing other people to heal that have never had an opportunity to. So what does that serve
the outside community? It makes it better inside, and then it trickles out. It’s when the officers leave, it’s when they go home,
or case managers go home, or anybody that’s
touched by incarceration. That ripple effect is huge. – I’ve talked to many people who have seen the show already, and I’ve asked them what their favorite part of the show was. And pretty much every
single person has said the talk back, which is something we do at the end of the show where everyone comes out on stage, and they talk about their experience. The audience is able
to ask them questions, give them feedback, sing their praises. So when I think about the amount of people that are going to come and see this, I hope that their minds are blown. They’re not just here as a show. They’re here for all of us to learn. – We have taken from society. But this has given us the opportunity to plant a seed for future generations. – We all came into prison broken until we (mumbling). And now, this is our opportunity to put a positive mark on society. To be able to give back to all of you and also receive the love and acceptance that we have from you. There’s nothing like it at all. (clapping) – When you have a real light, it shines no matter your circumstance, and so the light that you shine tonight on all of us, we will (muffled speaking) We will go out and advocate
for you in the world. – You are so loved, you are so seen. – Your voice is enough,
and you are enough. The story is more than enough. Living out, it grows from
there (muffled speaking) (cheering) – I think a lot of
people have the idea that prison is lock ’em up, throw away the key, they don’t deserve anything. So when you start bringing
the human conversation back, showing people, free people,
that incarcerated people have lives, and how do
we make ’em healthy? And how do we make ’em good? Then those conversations start shifting. – Can you raise your hand
if you’re a mom? (clapping) – To show my daughter how
important this was to me, because I’ve talked
about it since day one, she wept seeing me in my costume, when I greeted her with a program at our gym door. Through the whole program, any time I looked at her, she’s just clapping, smiling at me, and then afterwards she was like, “I’m so proud of you, mom.” And for my daughter to
tell me she’s proud of me means the world. – If the idea behind prison is that people should learn a lesson, right? If that’s the founding idea on that, this is a really beautiful way to do that. There are not many
opportunities like this, and so to provide something like this, and kind of have this grand
experiment in humanity, and how we may relate
to one another and grow. When we see each other emote and empathize with one another, what that does to us. – I’m Clare, and I got to direct the play. (clapping) – Clare always says, “Friends.” And that’s how he speaks to all of us. And to have somebody go friend, and know that he means that, it’s an amazing feeling. To know that he trusts us. We’ve worked so hard to try to make what he tells us come to life. – This effort was not just about doing a play, but transforming what prison is about. And then during the course with me, during the course even ahead of us, is gonna convince all of us that prison can be different, and it is a place of redemption. (clapping) And as a group, can we not
find a little humanity. In all of us. And oh by the way, the end result of that is that people who are
walking out of prison may be a tiny bit better than when they walked in. (clapping) – In 21,000 people incarcerated, more than half of them were returned to the streets of Colorado. It’s a conversation we should have. And what kind of people are we returning? Like Dean Williams has said, if it was a business model, 50% of
my products coming out, and then they’re being returned, I’m failing as a businessman. So how do I as an incarcerated person become a better product? It’s by exposing myself to things that make me grow. – But you find this carol,
this “Christmas Carol” that we’ve created has given us freedom beyond any words that I
could ever, ever find. So I thank you all for
witnessing our freedom. There is this tree scene. I’m laying on the floor
with my little tree and I’m listening to people
who are like, “Are those trees? “I don’t know what those
are. “What’s happening?” You know, I’m hearing all these whispers and then all of a sudden
I’m like, “I like my tree. “Why, because people are
wondering about them.” What is it, why is it, what is it important,
why does this matter? And I feel like that’s how I am. Why does it matter? Why is it important? I feel like my little tree. It might not seem significant, but in the grand scheme of things, when we dance out there
with our little trees, that are twigs, and we do our little part, we are significant. (clapping)

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