To tell the story as authentically as possible, four artists entered correctional institutions to interview incarcerated women and conduct drama workshops with them. A new play called Jail Baby is the result.
The story revolves around an 18-year old girl, Jasmine, who is pregnant. She was born in jail and has been in and out of prison all her life. She reflects on how she got to that point and realizes she has a choice to change the pattern.
The story unfolds in a series of scenes, some very earthy, gritty and naturalistic, some surrealistic parodies that look at the absurdity of the justice system and the stereotypes of criminalized women.
"I think this is a story that has never been told," says Hope McIntyre, artistic director of Sarasvati and co-writer of Jail Baby. "When we asked the women for their life stories it was amazing that they were grateful because no one had ever asked them to tell their stories in this way. So they felt empowered, they felt they had been given a voice, and I think it made them reflect. And that self awareness is really important."
The project began when Sarasvati Productions brought some monologues into a correctional institution. McIntyre says the response was very positive, and that the inmates were happy to have the opportunity to participate in the arts. So the company partnered with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Manitoba to develop this play with inmates from correctional institutions in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
McIntyre and Cairn Moore wrote the play based on the stories they were told by the women. They then went back to workshop the play with the women, get feedback and offer drama classes.
The process was an eye-opener for the writers. "What surprised us was the fact that when we met the women they were people you would meet on the street," says McIntyre. "They're not the stereotypes at all."
At the same time, they learned how the lives of the inmates had repeated cycles in them. A lot of them had been abused, were in foster care or came from poverty. "The repetition of those systemic issues really surprised us," says McIntyre.
Ann Hodges is the director of the play. "I think the clearest message is that there are no easy answers," she says. "The solutions that are sometimes presented to us in the media are to be tougher on crime, build more prisons or legislate mandatory sentences. Those are very simple answers that may not solve the deeper issues."
Some of the productions of Jail Baby will be followed by panel discussions.
Jail Baby runs at the University of Winnipeg Asper Centre for Theatre and Film May 16 - 26.
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