Tears flow incessantly down my face as I try to write this past midnight in my small apartment room in New York. I am thoroughly wrecked with emotion for this country, the US, and for the Philippines, my home country.
As a third year conservatory student at the Stella Adler Studio in New York, we are given the opportunity to put up a show that will go on tour around New York City. We don’t only go to schools; part of our tour is going to prisons.
We brought “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare to the prisoners at Riker’s Island in New York City’s main jail complex. Before heading there, I was filled with much anxiety. I was so scared to perform in front of “lawbreakers.” A part of me questioned why my conservatory would allow us to perform in such a place. I thought to myself, “How would they understand Shakespeare? They’re in prison. They likely had other things on their minds. How can they enjoy a performance from us?”
A big part of me was resisting what we came to do until we reached the jail.
Our cast was ushered into a small room and on the way there, different prisoners were talking among themselves. I could hear the excitement in their voices when they said things like “ooh! Those are the people that are gonna put up a show for us!”
As we waited, they trickled in slowly and greeted us with big smiles and happy pleasantries. I was totally taken aback. The happiness and excitement that they all expressed for the show we were about to present made me ease into the facility, and I found myself starting to relax.
We started the show with the line, “I have had a dream.” In an instant, we created a magical world for them. For the entire show, our audience was right with us with bright eyes and held breath. There was a lot of laughter during the jokes, a lot of snide remarks during times of mischief, and there was a lot of empathy for all the experiences each character was going through.
I had so much fun performing in front of them because I could feel the focus and the energy that our audience was giving to me and the rest of the cast.
‘Nothing but time’
After the show, we had a talk back with our audience. We laughed about some scenes, we anguished over the loss of love that some of the characters went through, and we even connected a lot of what happened in the story to our own lives – and we shared that with each other.
As I talked to them and performed for them, I realized that any one of them can just be my friend, my family member, my neighbor, my classmate. These people aren’t “scary people,” they’re all real people who found themselves in bad circumstances. I could easily see myself in them. We’re all human. We’re all made to deal with life and the world around us.
It broke my heart when one of them said, “We have nothing but time. So we are grateful that you took the time to come here and perform for us.”
Even if we had a beautiful moment in that room together, leaving the facility only made me realize what they face in their day-to-day lives. They are disconnected from a normal life, they are subjected to aggression from their peers and from the authorities, they are treated like pariahs by society. People do not go to prison to have a good life, they go to prison to be punished 24/7.
I went home from that performance with a heavy heart. Because I’ve met them, I couldn’t help but put myself in their shoes. I thought, if I were subjected to their circumstances, I may have also ended up in the same situation.
And tonight, I read the news that the Philippine House of Representatives approved a bill to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12 years old.
I cannot count the times I’ve held my head tonight to try to stop my tears from flowing. How can our leaders allow kids to enter government-run centers that for all intents and purposes are prisons? (LIST: How the House voted in lowering age of criminal liability)
I was already unhappy with the state of the prisons in New York, but to compare those with the jails or state centers in the Philippines, my brain simply cannot comprehend it. I have cousins who are at that age, and I imagine them and I think about how young and how innocent and how guileless they are.
My mind cannot wrap around the thought of 12-year-olds outside the comfort of their family or friends or mentors, where they are subjected to harsh and aggressive conditions.
We cannot just allow this to happen. We have to stand up for the children of our country. I will not accept the action of just me crying in my room about this. This is why I write. I write in hopes that we bring this injustice to a bigger stage with brighter lights. This injustice needs to be at center stage.
We have to raise our voices. We cannot allow our children to be called criminals. I beg you. Don’t just sit there and read this. Do something about it, please. – Rappler.com
(A stage actress from the Philippines with a theater arts degree from Assumption College in Makati, Gloria is on her final year at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in New York.)