California, San Quentin, Merchant of Venice

May 24, 2013

Crossing the bridge, the water is blue-green and crisp with short waves. At the other end, a fortress reminiscent of Spanish times, adobe colored walls illuminated by early morning gold, stands out at the end of a point of land; nested in wooly brown ground scruffy with wild grasses. This phillange of land has nested this outside-to-inside institution, San Quentin since 1852, right after the gold rush years. It’s 2013, this place has been around for 161 years. It’s hard to think of time and history and violence and the stories of the men that reside in these walls. This is where I will be strong and nonjudgmental and bring my sympathies and compassion, meet men who have been convicted of a crime. I don’t know what the crimes are that these men have committed. It’s a policy that Oregon Department of Corrections has for its volunteers, so I am choosing to not know, just to meet the men face to face.

Notorious individuals have been housed here: Black Bart, Sirhan Sirhan and Charles Manson along with a long list of serial killerss, enough to make you question what brings you here. Why go through these doors, pass the guard house, pass a brass plaque with a short list of guards shot in the line of duty, the last date 1985, then through a set of doors, scanned with a metal detector, through the sally port and into a courtyard where we meet and shake hands with the guys. All of this is familiar to me. I’ve been going out to Two Rivers Correctional Institution since the beginning of the year, so I know some of what goes on. It is easy to not look beyond the horror of crime, to never go into a prison, but if you have the opportunity you may find a deeper understanding of justice, society and humanity.

I’m here to see a performance of Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.” The Marin Shakespeare Company has been producing plays with the inmates since 2003. Drama therapist, Suryaya Keating has been working with the inmates in this latest production.

stay tuned… this story will continue….in the meantime, read a review of the performance