The Bard in the Yard

In California, Shakespeare is showing students and inmates about actions and their consequences.
San Quentin State Prison inmate LeMar Harrison, center, plays Mark Antony in a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at San Quentin State Prison on May 15, 2015. Under the direction of Shakespeare for Social Justice, San Quentin State Prison inmates are performing Shakespearean plays for inmates and a select audience of outside guests.
12_23_Othello_01 Source: Justin Sullivan/Getty

Dameion Brown is on one knee, head in hand, surrounded by middle-school Shakespeare students, all doing their best to stand completely still. The seventh and eighth graders are part of a dramaturgy and design class at Oakland’s Edna Brewer School, and they are doing a theater exercise in which they freeze on the command of their teacher, Jana Maiuri, using only their bodies and faces to convey a host of emotions: jealousy, anger, remorse. There are plenty of those feelings to be found in school, it seems, just as there is in prison.

The 48-year-old Brown, who looks like an NFL linebacker in the midst of all these kids, was serving a life sentence in California prisons for severely abusing three of his young children when he discovered acting—or it discovered him. He got involved in a Shakespeare-in-prison program that changed the course of his life. He was released in August 2015, after serving almost 23 years; with no acting experience before being sent to prison, Brown landed the role of Othello in a Marin Shakespeare Company production. This was how these students knew him: they’d seen him on stage. He was not an ex-con who’d committed unthinkable crimes but the black general who murdered his white wife in a fit

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