Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard

Laura Bates. Sourcebooks, $14.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-4022-7314-8
Indiana State literature professor Bates details her remarkable work teaching Shakespeare to inmates, an experience that proved momentous for both teacher and students. Invoking lessons from previous volunteer work at prisons in her native Chicago, Bates transported Shakespeare into solitary-confinement lock-up (Secured Housing Unit, aka "supermax") at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, Indiana, and there met Larry Newton, her most engaged student and focus of this work. A convicted killer incarcerated since he was a juvenile—often in solitary confinement or on death row—Newton, despite his grade-school education, takes naturally to Shakespeare; starting with Richard II, he displays startling moments of empathy with the characters and latches on to many parallels of verisimilitude. Each week, toiling on their knees over homework assignments Bates passes through the "cuff port", forced to communicate through the bunker-like doors, chosen inmates in supermax discuss and dissect themes of revenge, criminality, honor, and love—from Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Othello, among others. Opening the mind's prison proves enormously gratifying, not to mention effective, for Bates as she offers the prisoners an alternative to frustrated violence. Her brave, groundbreaking work continues to be closely watched and modeled. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/15/2013
Release date: 04/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
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