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Brown Creek inmates stage play with message for at-risk youth

Contact: Rosemary Britt (704) 272-7635

POLKTON, March 28 - A group of inmates at the Brown Creek Correctional Institution will present the latest version of "Leaves of Magnolia: The Brown Creek Life Review Performance Project for Young People" to four audiences of at-risk youth from Anson and Durham counties on March 28 and 30.

These groups of about 25 teenagers ages 16 and older will be brought to the prison by van. Once they arrive, the students will have to pass a security check and file into the prison's visitation room where the 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. performances will be staged. The youth, who are considered at high risk of becoming involved in criminal activity, will find themselves in the company of the male, medium-security inmates who play the characters in the three-act play. All of the "Leaves of Magnolia" actors are enrolled in South Piedmont Community College's Corrections Education Program at BCCI.

If performances of the 1999 version of the play are any indication, the youth who make up the audience will get a stark and honest look at life within the fences of a prison. If the play itself doesn't get the go-straight message across, maybe the question and answer session with real inmates that follows the play will have an impact!

SPCC Corrections Education Chair Joe Madaras is serving as co-director of this prison life review project along with Alicia J. Rouverol, a folklorist and research associate at the Southern Oral History Program. The play will be directed by Marlene Richardson, an education specialist with the Anson County Schools who has directed a number of community and children's theater productions in Anson County.

"Leaves of Magnolia" is meant to benefit at-risk youth," said Rouverol. "It also provides an opportunity for inmates to examine their lives to see why they landed at Brown Creek. This project is about helping kids and inmates take responsibility for their lives."

The play that will be presented at BCCI this month has been rewritten with a group of inmates currently serving time at BCCI. Just as the 1999 version reflected the personal experiences of the cast, the 2001 edition will tell the personal stories of the players. "Leaves of Magnolia" grew out of taped storytelling sessions at BCCI in which inmates reviewed their own histories, including family history, childhood, schooling and young adult life. The review was done in an effort to understand the influences that had shaped the inmates' actions and resulted in their incarceration at Brown Creek.

"The play uses the magnolia tree as its central metaphor because a magnolia never loses its leaves," Rouverol said. "In much the same way, inmates who are incarcerated or young people who may already be in trouble can never really lose their identities, and have the opportunity to continually shape and alter their lives through the choices they face and the paths they take."

This year's version of "Leaves of Magnolia" is structured in three acts: Life Before Brown Creek; Life After Brown Creek; and Turning the Corner: Making Meaning, Making Choices, Finding Alternatives.

The ongoing "Leaves of Magnolia" project evolved from a 1996 oral history workshop led by Rouverol. The enthusiasm of the inmates who participated in this one-day workshop spurred Rouverol to begin the life review project with a group of inmates enrolled in SPCC's Corrections Education Program. She traveled to the prison about twice a week in 1998 to work with just over a dozen Anglo, African American and Hispanic men ranging in age from mid-20s to early 70s. Richardson and Kathryn Walbert, who also worked with the Southern Oral History Program, joined her for the interviews, and when they were finished, Rouverol and Richardson teamed up with Madaras to write a script with the inmates. "Leaves of Magnolia" was the result.

This year's project will be documented through black and white photography by Cedric Chatterley, who has done photography projects across North Carolina, and has been supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and state and humanities agencies in Illinois, Maine, North Carolina and South Dakota.

"Leaves of Magnolia" is sponsored by the Durham Arts Council with funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council. Assistance has been provided by South Piedmont Community College, the North Carolina Department of Corrections and the Southern Oral History Program at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Additional Contacts:
Alicia Rouverol,
Southern Oral History Program, and Brown Creek Life Review Project Co-Director. (919) 317-4244

Joe Madaras, SPCC Corrections Education Chair, and Brown Creek Life Review Project Co-Director. SPCC (704) 272-7635 or BCCI (704) 694-2622, ext. 341

Marlene Richardson, Anson County Schools Education Specialist, and play director (704) 694-2337.

Jacqueline Wagstaff, Northeast Central Durham-Partners Against Crime, and Durham City Council Representative for Ward #6, will bring youth from the Weed & Seed program. (919) 949-3731

Preston Waddell will bring youth from the Anson Challenge Academy. (704) 694-3348

Devane Harvey, Youth Services Director, Anson County Court House. (704) 694-2631

Larry Wallace, Court Counselor Supervisor, Department of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention, 14th District, Durham (DJJ/DP), will bring youth from the PROUD, Rites of Passage, and JUSTICE programs. (919) 560-6825, ext. 4608

Martina Dunford, Director of New Horizons in Durham, an alternative school working with kids suspended for 365 days or through the end of the academic school year. (919) 530-8508.

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