What: Performance of Twelve Angry Women
Where: Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, Wilsonville, OR
Who: Members of Theatre at Coffee Creek
When: May 31, 2016
Over the years starting in 2011, I’d been out to the men’s prison in Umatilla, OR Two Rivers Correctional Institution, numerous times. It’s a long and exquisite drive out there through the Columbia Gorge, three and a half hours from Portland, where, for awhile I drove out with Johnny on a weekly basis. The medium security facility, a state prison, hosts around 1,800 men. There are thirteen men’s prisons in the state of Oregon, only one women’s prison, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, OR. It hosts close to 1,200 women as well as serving as a an intake facility for 380 men.
Going into Coffee Creek is way-different than Two Rivers. At Umatilla, which is a medium security facility, we walk across a large vacant lawn about the size of three football fields into a building that lays blank without windows, only a door or two and a giant face of concrete hundreds of feet long. With Coffee Creek, once past the check-in point, it is only a few steps and you look onto an open courtyard where women are out walking and to one side, there are immaculately groomed raised flower beds with vegetable growing in them. The women who raise the vegetables are part of a healthy foods initiative at Coffee Creek. Of course, Two Rivers is medium security and at Coffee Creek we are in the minimum security area.
I’ve only had the chance to visit the women’s prison two times, but each time I was aware how observed or looked onto the women; bringing a motherly, female sense and deconstructing memories of my own experience of being with those the same sex as I. On my first visit, one of the women commented on my sweater; she loved the softness of my sweater which she did not get from her assigned clothing.
Knowing how much I treasure my clothes: the texture, variability of color and style and comfort, I felt this profound sense of loss in these women’s lives that they, day-in and day-out must live in boxy blue tee shirts and baggy blue jeans. The feminine is lost to them, their individuality narrowed.
However, seeing the performance of Twelve Angry Women shifted my focus to seeing beyond the daily to a new place for self expression and talent. Theater has that magic ability to provide the actor the opportunity to become something else, to bring forward emotions and character that are often cloaked or repressed.
In this performance I saw the athletic drive of Juror No. 8 who had to convince the other eleven jurors that there was a reasonable doubt.
Juror No. 4 was that ballast, weighing in and keeping balance between the two sides of the argument, Juror No. 3 held tight to her convictions revealing a character that held bitterly to her beliefs and Juror No. 7 was pure performance, taking the fall from the staged knifing. And of course there was the Foreman holding the group together, keeping tabs on process.
It seems that something remarkable always happens at a performance and this time it was the Judge. After the play ended, the Judge was given a few minutes to tell her story. She delivered a deeply moving speech, both somber and uplifting. She had 27 more days left of a 16 year prison sentence. She was 19 years old when incarcerated.
There were tears and cheers for her as she encouraged the others to be strong and not give up hope.
Co-directors Carla Grant and Don Kern are responsible for creating this ensemble of women that participate in Theatre at Coffee Creek. Everyone benefits from the direction and care that is brought to the production as we see the joy, support and trust that is built from the experience.
Be sure to check out all the photos from this fantastic show!