New Brunswick

Play based on life and death of Ashley Smith comes to Fredericton

A play based on the Ashley Smith case called Watching Glory Die, written by award-winning playwright Judith Thompson, opens in Fredericton on Thursday.

Smith was 19 when she killed herself in her prison cell while guards watched, under orders not to intervene

Ashley Smith killed herself inside a federal prison in 2007. (Courtesy of Ashley Smith's family)

A play based on the Ashley Smith case opens in Fredericton on Thursday.

Watching Glory Die was written by award-winning playwright Judith Thompson.

Speaking to Information Morning Fredericton, Thompson said she was was inspired to write the piece by what she calls the tragedy of Smith's death. 

She never hurt anyone.- Judith Thompson, playwright, speaking of Ashley Smith

"I was so outraged, haunted and perplexed by how this could happen in our country," said Thompson.

"And so I started writing monologues. I created a character named Glory inspired by Ashley Smith. I created her mother, as well, and also a guard." 

Ashley Smith, originally from Moncton, was 19 years old when she died in at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont. in 2007.

She strangled herself with a strip of cloth in a prison cell, while guards looked on. The inquiry into her incarceration and death led to a national conversation on what could and should have been done differently in her case.

"A girl who was arrested for throwing crab apples at a postman when she was 14, and then given charge after charge for what we would consider minor infractions, like saying … 'eff' off, or no, I don't like that food, that kind of thing," said Thompson.

"They kept her in solitary confinement for years."

Thompson said in doing extensive research for the play, she spoke with Smith's mother, Coralee, whom she describes as very supportive of the project, although she hasn't seen the play.

"Coralee Smith [is] a brilliant, determined, compassionate and very funny woman, who gave permission and was happy to keep the story alive."

Thompson, who has staged the play in Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax, said it is not meant to be a documentary. 

It's fiction, based on a true story and she hopes it will make people think.

"There are people — men and women — who've been declared dangerous offenders, who never hurt anyone, and then there are people who've done unbelievable damage, and they get out in a few years … she never hurt anyone.

Watching Glory Die, at Theatre New Brunswick's studio theatre on Whiting Road in Fredericton, opens Thursday and wraps up with a matinee on Sunday. 

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