Monday, November 30, 2009

1868 Russian reflection on capital punishment

from Dostoevsky's novel, The Idiot, as the main character discusses the French guillotine, remembering having seen a criminal cry as he stepped up to certain death --

"... the chief and worst pain may not be in the bodily suffering but in one's knowing for certain that in an hour, and then in ten minutes, and then in half a minute, and then now, at the very moment, the soul will leave the body and that one will cease to be a man and that that's bound to happen; the worst part of it is that it's certain.
... To kill for murder is a punishment incomparably worse than the crime itself.  Murder by legal sentence is immeasurably more terrible than murder by brigands... Anyone murdered by bringands... must surely hope to escape till the very last minute.  But in the other case all that last hope, which makes dyingten times as easy, is taken away for certain.  There is the sentence, and the whole awful torture lies in the fact that there is certainly no escape, and there is no torture in the world more terrible.
... Who can tell whether human nature is able to bear this without madness?"


this will be a kind of:

"prison-indigenous land-violation-occupation-rediscover-conscience and consciousness-crime and punishment-liberation-redepmtion kind of piece"

- Malavika Mohanan, friend/collaborator

* * * * * *

"There is also something that I came across today. Jeremey Bentham, great English philospher, came up with this extraordinary plan for a type of prison The Panopticon

"Morals reformed— health preserved — industry invigorated — instruction diffused — public burthens lightened — Economy seated, as it were, upon a rock — the gordian knot of the poor-law not cut, but untied — all by a simple idea in Architecture!"

What a quote! (upon a rock)

Here's more"

- Jessica Joffe, friend/collaborator

night on the rock

sleepless sleepover on the rock

like kids all night exploration

rubble piles, roof tops, skeleton architecture against the sky

open spaces sprawling and closed trapped corners

envisioning stunts, fights, flight

shifting and opening souls

the power of the game of "yes", you who know the one, and in the cell house at that.

fire circle - ritual of building our first prayer bundle


without a forced sense of solemnity,

the power presents itself with ease

but my lungs crushed in the cell at 5am

when i tried to lie down and rest

finding i can navigate the weight of space when i'm in motion

working, engaging, activating

but to be still.

to sit with it

just sit and be still with it ?

i physically can not breathe.

escaped to sunrise vista

and an hour of sleep outside under the lighthouse

stone holds memory.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Thought I'd start at the beginning and ruminate on the themes. I started this a week ago...

Access. I think first of an entry way. Availability. A portal. I look it up in the dictionary and find it's also the right to pass. It suggests the future to me. Something will come of it. I like the thought, "I have access". It suggests favor.

Justice. Richard Pryor said it meant, "Just Us".
Two definitions for justice are fairness, and equity. I've been assured the world isn't fair, and I believe it. I feel a wry cockiness, a "valiant ignorance" when I think of how I know the world isn't fair.

And in this thought they find a kind of ease
Bearing their own misfortune on the back
Of such as have before endured the like..

From this perspective justice does seem like "Just Us". It comes down to whoever is in charge, whoever is administering, to give justice it's face, its character. There must be checks and balances. I'm guessing most people think that "justice is served" in our courts. I do. I generally think I know what's fair. I'm conscious of the argument about "the alternatives". How often can equity be imposed, or fairness assured? The world isn't fair. Wondering about this, I feel resigned, fatalistic.

Incarceration. Time to ponder the error of my ways. This word seems the unhappy spawn of the words incineration and carcinogen. Incarcerate: to imprison, to confine. What does confinement accomplish? Or imprisonment? It isolates a dangerous person, removing them from society. Serving a sentence is supposed to result in the paying of a debt. By one account, we have 5% of the worlds population, and 25% of the worlds prison population. I wonder how this fits into our national debt.

Isolation. By chance I ran across an essay in the NY'ker titled "HellHole" by Atul Gawande...some excerpts:

"Human beings are social creatures. exist as a normal human being requires interaction with other people".

"Twelve months of isolation almost obliterated the animals (test monkeys) socially. They became permanently withdrawn, and they lived as outcasts--regularly set upon, as if inviting abuse".

"In 1992, fifty-seven prisoners of war, released after an average of six months in detention camps in the former Yugoslavia, were examined using EEG-like tests. The recordings revealed brain abnormalities months afterward; the most severe were found in prisoners who had endured either head trauma sufficient to render them unconscious, or solitary confinement."

I observed myself becoming neurotically possessive about my little space, at times putting my life in jeopardy by flying into a rage if a guard happened to step on my bed. (memoir of former hostage Terry Anderson)

"First, after months or years of complete isolation, many prisoners "begin to lose the ability to initiate behavior of any kind"...Second, almost ninety per cent of these prisoners had difficulty with "irrational anger" compared with just three per cent of prisoners in the general population." (Craig Haney, UC Santa Cruz from study of randomly selected one hundred inmates at Pelican Bay supermax)

"The simple truth is that public sentiment in America is the reason that solitary confinement has exploded in this country, even as other Western nations have taken steps to reduce it. This is the dark side of American exceptionalism."

Redemption. Having put right. To make up for. There's to society, and then there's personal redemption. I'm acting as my own judge, or I'm ceding to a higher personal authority. I feel my imagination engaging with those thoughts. Then there's a convenience store right next to a church near Great Barrington, MA. Between the church and store, there's a redemption center sign. It's primary meaning is to advertise where you redeem your empty's. I'd always have sneaky thoughts when I drove by there.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

sleepover/ beginnings...

walking down D-block, alone 
(though tourists were still wandering the island, the cell house was remarkably quiet)

after the last light of day had faded from the clear night sky, 
a mere 10 minutes before We 15 gathered down on the Parade Ground for circle...

I listened,
and though I didn't hear anything verbal, I felt a sense of welcome.

I talked to the spirits,
stating that we are here in peace... with the desire to explore JUSTICE, deeply feel access and isolation, and experience the richness of now layered with residues of incarceration and redemption... with honest intentions to acknowledge the truth present on this Rock and to creatively express the hindrances to and opportunities for collectively shaping a more just future.

I listened,
and I felt a sense of welcome.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

What is SuperMax?

"What is a SuperMax prison exactly? According to the Spunk Library SuperMax prisons are essentially solitary confinement for the duration of the sentence. Prisoners are locked into a small cell for 23 hours a day, (1 hour a day “exercise” in a different concrete room with a pullup bar) communication is restriction or totally denied, etc, etc. This quote from the article is notable:

The effects of solitary confinement have been known for more than a century. The following is a quotation from an opinion by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1890: “[E]xperience demonstrated that there were serious objections to [solitary confinement]. A considerable number of the prisoners fell, after even a short confinement, into a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide; while those who stood the ordeal better were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service. . . .” "

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Thoughts from the field

Steve Boss (Prospero from our production of The Tempest in the raw and wild landscape of the Albany Bulb, 2006), and I found ourselves landing on this thought during a recent conversation about vengeance…the what, the wherefore, the for whom?

“Vengeance is for the Dead. Mercy, FORGIVENESS, is for yourself.”

Or, as Portia in Merchant of Venice would articulate it:
“We do pray for Mercy, and that same prayer,
doth teach us all to render the deeds of Mercy”

from our dear friend and supporter, Ranger Dave McDonald, of Alcatraz and Fort Point:

"thinkin of ya…,thinkin of the transforming power of the rock, of the men that were broken, even as they broke the rock, of the men that found themselves, their own strength, inner iron, sharpened against the rock, and the paradox and promise, broken and bled out, soldiers and indians finding a soul, violence and men who refused violence, strength to weakness to strength

listening with the bones

A pleasure to have one of my teachers from Shakespeare & Co., of my hometown, Lenox, MA, here in SF to lead a weekend workshop with local actors.
As a witness during the workshop, it was so beautiful to watch the rapid transformations as actors were guided by Dennis towards their personal connection with the Shakespeare text. An honor to witness the breakthroughs and full body experiences of the Word.

Many reminders and new discoveries…

Ever centering back to the breath. The source of all things.
That the thought is carried on the breath. Follow the emotion, the thought, from breath to breath. Let it change with each breath. Without anticipating what will come next, let the breath do the work. Let the breath carry you.

The bones as the resonating material for vibration.
Listening with my bones.
Letting my vibration penetrate the bones of others.
This way we don’t have to work to listen. When we speak with the whole body, when we speak with the whole of our being, we can likewise listen with the whole body, with whole of our being.

Why Shakespeare?
These characters living at the extremity of their beings; they are models for living to the greatest amplitude possible.

Everything is possible within the realm of human experience. These characters are vessels for plumbing the depths of human potential. If I can come to taste and know a glimmer of these human states, I might inch closer towards a greater understanding of what it means to be human. This process may make blame impossible.
If everything is possible within ME, then there really is no OTHER, no monster outside.
This is one step towards real justice.
The knowledge that we are the same.
The willingness to see myself in the eyes in another, despite all that may be in the way. This is the walk towards peace - the dissolution of blame and persecution, that grows from understanding and compassion.

(SF weekend workshop with Shakespeare & Company director of training, Dennis Krausnick took place at The French-American International School in SF)

LINKS and assignments



If anyone is excited and some time visit either the
Presidio Park Archives or the San Bruno Prison Archives, we’d love it!

We're looking for supplementary materials...
texts from modern sources around our broad and challenging themes.
if you have things you think we should read, links to articles and so on, please let us know!

more research links...politics and justice...

Other Groups we’re excited about:

THANKS as ever to the wonderful support team at CounterPULSE, our fiscal sponsor.


music. actors. dancers. drinks. merriment. conversation. dance party.
date to be announce soon....

Dinner Theater, February 4th
at St. John's, in the Mission
(15th and Julian)

mark your calendar!
spread the word!
invite your friends to the feast!
and make your reservation early…

Notes on the Residency:

This marks the first ever artist residency on Alcatraz!
Created specifically for We Players, by invitation from the National Park Service.

Special thanks to Howard Levitt (chief of interpretation for the GGNRA), and Amy Brees (site supervisor on Alcatraz), for the invitation, for their support, and their committed collaboration with WE.
Special thanks to the staff of Alcatraz Cruises for safe passage to and from the island, and special thanks to the Alcatraz Rangers and island staff for their enthusiasm and the budding collaborations and promising conversations already underway.

We Players are committed to making vital theater in public landscapes, using theater as a tool for engaging individuals and invigorating spaces.

Ever experimenting with what the work, and our presence in a place, ignites and stirs up in people. What questions and conversations we can actively explore when the full sensory apparatus is engaged via artistic experience. WE encourage seeing as an act of creation, listening as tuning in to the hidden stories that linger, and awakening to the wonder and ART all around us, all the time.


Welcome, WE've come to the land of blogging...

okay, I’ll admit, I’ve never been very good at keeping an active online presence.
I respond to emails and such, but a BLOG, oh my…
my friends know that when I’m at sea, I manage to scrawl these long, rambling stream of consciousness updates on my pirate adventures, from snatches of time on land.
But to regularly update a BLOG, and write complete sentences?
Well, I’ll try…

I’ll be attempting to reach my own goal of updates every other week...
and let you know what we’re discovering and how things are evolving.

I must admit, I’m more interested in what YOU’RE discovering, your questions, and your findings, so I hope you’ll get involved and post your thoughts HERE! We’re also looking for links to sites, articles, and so on, for the larger We Players’ community to share.
The themes:

solitary confinement.
the struggle of the self
conscience and consciousness.
madness or liberation?
crime and punishment.
healing and reconciliation.
judgment. mercy.

we start to gather
scatter the floor with paper
see what floats

post away!