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Shakespeare Behind Bars: The Power of Drama in a Women's Prison

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A deeply stirring account of one woman's experience teaching drama to women in prison. I began to understand that female prisoners are not "damaged goods" and to recognize that most of these women had toughed it out in a society that favors others-- by gender, class, or race. They are Desdemonas suffering because of jealous men, Lady Macbeths craving the power of their spou A deeply stirring account of one woman's experience teaching drama to women in prison. I began to understand that female prisoners are not "damaged goods" and to recognize that most of these women had toughed it out in a society that favors others-- by gender, class, or race. They are Desdemonas suffering because of jealous men, Lady Macbeths craving the power of their spouses, Portias disguised as men in order to get ahead, and Shylocks who, being betrayed, take the law into their own hands. So writes Jean Trounstine in Shakespeare Behind Bars. In this gripping account, Trounstine who spent ten years teaching at Framingham Women's Prison in Massachusetts, focuses on six inmates who, each in her own way, discover in the power of great drama a way to transcend the painful constraints of incarceration. We meet: * Dolly, a fiftyish grandmother who brings her knitting to classes and starts a battered-women's group in prison *Bertie, a Jamaican beauty estranged from her homeland, torn with guilt, and shunned for her crime * Kit, a tough, wisecracking con who stirs up trouble whenever she can-- until she's threatened with losing her kids * Rose, an outsider in the prison community who lives with HIV and eventually gains acceptance through drama * Rhonda, a college-educated leader whose life falls apart when her father dies and who struggles in prison to reestablish her roots * Mamie, a nurse in the free world, now the prison gardener who makes cards with poetry and dried flowers and battles her own illness behind bars Shakespeare Behind Bars is a uniquely powerful work that gives voice to forgotten women, shed a compassionate light on a dark world, and proves the redemptive power of art and education.


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A deeply stirring account of one woman's experience teaching drama to women in prison. I began to understand that female prisoners are not "damaged goods" and to recognize that most of these women had toughed it out in a society that favors others-- by gender, class, or race. They are Desdemonas suffering because of jealous men, Lady Macbeths craving the power of their spou A deeply stirring account of one woman's experience teaching drama to women in prison. I began to understand that female prisoners are not "damaged goods" and to recognize that most of these women had toughed it out in a society that favors others-- by gender, class, or race. They are Desdemonas suffering because of jealous men, Lady Macbeths craving the power of their spouses, Portias disguised as men in order to get ahead, and Shylocks who, being betrayed, take the law into their own hands. So writes Jean Trounstine in Shakespeare Behind Bars. In this gripping account, Trounstine who spent ten years teaching at Framingham Women's Prison in Massachusetts, focuses on six inmates who, each in her own way, discover in the power of great drama a way to transcend the painful constraints of incarceration. We meet: * Dolly, a fiftyish grandmother who brings her knitting to classes and starts a battered-women's group in prison *Bertie, a Jamaican beauty estranged from her homeland, torn with guilt, and shunned for her crime * Kit, a tough, wisecracking con who stirs up trouble whenever she can-- until she's threatened with losing her kids * Rose, an outsider in the prison community who lives with HIV and eventually gains acceptance through drama * Rhonda, a college-educated leader whose life falls apart when her father dies and who struggles in prison to reestablish her roots * Mamie, a nurse in the free world, now the prison gardener who makes cards with poetry and dried flowers and battles her own illness behind bars Shakespeare Behind Bars is a uniquely powerful work that gives voice to forgotten women, shed a compassionate light on a dark world, and proves the redemptive power of art and education.

50 review for Shakespeare Behind Bars: The Power of Drama in a Women's Prison

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ame

    Trounstine takes her teaching experience in the Framingham prison system and creates a dramatic tale of women, who commit wrongs and yet are wronged themselves. I expected to be moved, but honestly not quite this much. I'd like to read more updated materials on similar experiences from other teachers, because it was hard for me to picture female prisoners having the privilege of wearing their own clothing and getting the opportunity to don costumes while in the crossbar hotel. Then again, Trouns Trounstine takes her teaching experience in the Framingham prison system and creates a dramatic tale of women, who commit wrongs and yet are wronged themselves. I expected to be moved, but honestly not quite this much. I'd like to read more updated materials on similar experiences from other teachers, because it was hard for me to picture female prisoners having the privilege of wearing their own clothing and getting the opportunity to don costumes while in the crossbar hotel. Then again, Trounstine's teaching years for this book were during the eighties and early nineties, so the rules weren't quite as strict. She molds the prisoners into experienced actors and playwrights. These women rewrite "The Merchant of Venice" and "The Taming of the Shrew" (Rapshrew - brilliant!) into contemporary language in order to put on a performance in prison, and thus dispel the notion that Shakespeare is the "white man's theater" as they put it. I found myself trying not to cry when I read about the cheers and standing ovations they received after their first performance, and again reading about Jean's final experiences with each woman. I recommend this reading to everyone as it encourages the idea that art programs can bring valuable therapy to criminals and possibly reduce recidivism.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    I wanted to like this book, I really did. But I couldn't turn off my editing brain the whole time. First, the afterword about compositing of characters and rearranging of the actual timeline should really have been a preface so the reader already knows that we're being shown essentially staged reenactments. Second, I wish the book had been structured chronologically, rather than loosely grouped into chapters that each vaguely centered a different inmate-- the result was that several anecdotes we I wanted to like this book, I really did. But I couldn't turn off my editing brain the whole time. First, the afterword about compositing of characters and rearranging of the actual timeline should really have been a preface so the reader already knows that we're being shown essentially staged reenactments. Second, I wish the book had been structured chronologically, rather than loosely grouped into chapters that each vaguely centered a different inmate-- the result was that several anecdotes were told multiple times and the narrative seemed jumbled. Maybe it's just that in 2017 we have multiple seasons of OITNB with nuanced portrayals of women inmates as complex humans, but I also felt like the portrayals of the women in this book (copyright 2001) seemed flat and sometimes cartoonish. I'm also sort of the choir in this case, in that I'm all for arts and education programs in prisons, so maybe the stories here aren't necessarily aimed at me. So it wasn't unpleasant, but I wanted more from the book than what I got, I guess. (Also, Shakespeare doesn't seem to feature a whole hell of a lot, given the title, but that's as may be)

  3. 5 out of 5

    MB Shakespeare

    A teacher's story of teaching Shakespeare to women in prison. Not well written, bit self-indulgent but she's done great work. Fave quote: "Change happens when we read a book and a character sits inside us…Sometimes change is as small as an emotional half smile, the tilt of a head in response to a new idea." A teacher's story of teaching Shakespeare to women in prison. Not well written, bit self-indulgent but she's done great work. Fave quote: "Change happens when we read a book and a character sits inside us…Sometimes change is as small as an emotional half smile, the tilt of a head in response to a new idea."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tami

    This powerful and emotionally riveting memoir is the account of Jean Trounstine's experience teaching female inmates in a medium-security prison in Massachusetts. She starts with a college-level literature course (some of the women earn their degrees while in prison) and ends with a full-blown production of Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice." Each chapter focuses on a different inmate and her personal experiences with the class. I fell in love with the concept of prisoners performing Shakespe This powerful and emotionally riveting memoir is the account of Jean Trounstine's experience teaching female inmates in a medium-security prison in Massachusetts. She starts with a college-level literature course (some of the women earn their degrees while in prison) and ends with a full-blown production of Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice." Each chapter focuses on a different inmate and her personal experiences with the class. I fell in love with the concept of prisoners performing Shakespeare back when I first saw the documentary by the same name a few years ago. It's about the same program, only it takes place in a men's prison and the inmates perform "The Tempest." Both the book and the film aim to demonstrate the redemptive and healing power of art, specifically, theater. They both try to humanize the inmates without justifying their crimes. Most of all, they challenge stereotypes of what a prisoner should be like.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Janet Jay

    Self-serving book about relatively spoiled prisoners in a drama program. There are so so many fantastic programs & stories from the penal system in prisons that this woman's "struggle" just doesn't hold much weight. A nice example was when she got special permission to bring them period costumes to try on, she let them run around the hall disrupting other classes, & when she's told dress up time is over she presents it as basically killing her students' souls, despite what today seems like a rid Self-serving book about relatively spoiled prisoners in a drama program. There are so so many fantastic programs & stories from the penal system in prisons that this woman's "struggle" just doesn't hold much weight. A nice example was when she got special permission to bring them period costumes to try on, she let them run around the hall disrupting other classes, & when she's told dress up time is over she presents it as basically killing her students' souls, despite what today seems like a ridiculously lax rules in the prison, considering the crimes. Just not a good book in any way.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ann Santori

    This examination of life in prison being transformed by the infusion of culture/education is simply not as detailed or focused as ones like Running The Books. I felt like I was reading an outline or overview of Trounstine's experience rather than the memoir itself . . . perhaps a function of her odd writing choice to create composite characters from pieces of the real-life women she encountered and to reconstruct dialogue in a similar compound style. This examination of life in prison being transformed by the infusion of culture/education is simply not as detailed or focused as ones like Running The Books. I felt like I was reading an outline or overview of Trounstine's experience rather than the memoir itself . . . perhaps a function of her odd writing choice to create composite characters from pieces of the real-life women she encountered and to reconstruct dialogue in a similar compound style.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Northlake Public Library District

    This examination of life in prison being transformed by the infusion of culture/education is simply not as detailed or focused as ones like Running The Books. I felt like I was reading an outline or overview of Trounstine's experience rather than the memoir itself . . . perhaps a function of her odd writing choice to create composite characters from pieces of the real-life women she encountered and to reconstruct dialogue in a similar compound style. This examination of life in prison being transformed by the infusion of culture/education is simply not as detailed or focused as ones like Running The Books. I felt like I was reading an outline or overview of Trounstine's experience rather than the memoir itself . . . perhaps a function of her odd writing choice to create composite characters from pieces of the real-life women she encountered and to reconstruct dialogue in a similar compound style.

  8. 5 out of 5

    ˚˙¥øne††å˙˚6B

    It;s becoming a good story to read. It;s mostly about woman who got locked up. And Shakespear just did a play on it...Opps I gave it away

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sheri

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kitten

  11. 4 out of 5

    Liz Fox

  12. 4 out of 5

    Janice

  13. 5 out of 5

    Moira Brennan

  14. 5 out of 5

    Cathryn

  15. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Zoukis

  16. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  17. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Bowman

  18. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

  19. 5 out of 5

    Adrienne

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ollie Deneve

  22. 4 out of 5

    Louis Postel

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mimi

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jean Trounstine

  25. 4 out of 5

    KJ

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Barber

  27. 5 out of 5

    NELL

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Frisz

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alli McCloat

  30. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

  31. 4 out of 5

    Judith

  32. 4 out of 5

    Nola Redd

  33. 5 out of 5

    Tricha

  34. 5 out of 5

    Lily

  35. 5 out of 5

    Jess

  36. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

  37. 5 out of 5

    Belynda

  38. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany

  39. 5 out of 5

    Roshalle

  40. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

  41. 5 out of 5

    Ms. Vitale

  42. 5 out of 5

    Jason

  43. 5 out of 5

    Tristan

  44. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Loomis

  45. 4 out of 5

    Nathalie

  46. 5 out of 5

    Annie

  47. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  48. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

  49. 5 out of 5

    Becky Brinkerhoff

  50. 4 out of 5

    Caro

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