'Soul Found in a Lost Society'
Letter from America No. I
Photography: Georgia Oetker
A STORY OF POETIC JUSTIN
What follows are extracts of a few letters from one young lad who I remember most vividly for coming up to me after one early rehearsal and saying: ‘Thank you for including me in this programme. I came here to learn about Shakespeare but I find I’m learning much more about myself.’ He did. Segments from his letters will actively show the importance (from both ends) of effective mentoring in this particular arena. It most definitely is a two-way street.
To Dr. Bruce Wall
I would like to thank you for what you shared with me and the doors you’ve opened. You afforded us all an opportunity to do something out of the ordinary. Something new like that takes a lot of guts. You gave me the knowledge to allow me to be confident in my abilities to do something that I’m very unfamiliar with. A new world of Shakespeare, poetry and art has been opened up to me through your translations and direction. I feel that you’re a man of exceptional calibre with talent, integrity and an encyclopaedia of knowledge between your ears. Your efforts are tireless, undeterred and sincere.
You put together a play that relates to our lives and created a setting that allowed us to feel and express ourselves. The sense of accomplishment I got from this experience was very gratifying. I learned about Shakespeare, the United Kingdom, U.S. history, a sense of community and, lest I forget, the mannerism of good speech.
I commend you in the highest degree for bending over backwards, flying 13 hours and going through a boatload of bullshit to help a group of people you didn’t even know and who most would frown upon.
Now I find myself in a new kind of withdrawal, seeking that call over the loudspeaker: ‘Rounding Shakespeare’ is now being held in Arts in Corrections’.
In a second letter from Justin he writes:
The more I learn the more I find out there is to learn. Somebody told me the other day jokingly: ‘You should be a life-time student’. When I discovered that people actually DO THAT I thought: ‘Hey, that’s not a bad idea!’ If life IS a learning experience, what could possibly be wrong with applying a little acceleration and intensity.
Shortly after our last performance I applied for the IYO program and on Tuesday, March 4th they enrolled me in Fresno Pacific University. Hopefully next Tuesday, barring any unforeseen stymies, I’ll be able to plunge into psychology and/or sociology fist deep. They’ll assist me with my schooling for a year. My goal is to complete two 15 week courses in one month or less. Not that I want to speed through it. I just want to show motivation, initiative and responsibility in the hopes of gaining exposure to the good stuff: You know, timed courses and exams. I definitely want to concentrate on my grade point average so that I can get into better schools. It all starts now!
Cross your fingers though, for as we both know, nothing in this place is etched in stone. Still, no matter what, I’m not easily deterred. Where there is a will, there is a way.
…. I found this in my old stuff. I wrote it when I was fighting my case. Tell me what you think. I had more but I tossed them:
In a Letter Six Weeks After Performance Justin Writes:
We just had a riot and the program on this yard has experienced a brief paralysis, even though I’m not at a loss and I remain fully functional.
As luck would have it I was in my truck driving class during the moment of battle. A good thing too as I might have had a setback. Observing the emotions and attempting to understand the logic behind such an occurrence during this lockdown period has been, to say the least, intriguing.
BUT – ‘If the while I think on thee dear friend’ – That was then and this is NOW. I’ve just completed my first college course: A fifteen week program in under three weeks! Thrilled wouldn’t begin to describe how I feel. This sense of accomplishment is sensational. If someone had told me that achievement was so addictive I would have picked it up a long time ago instead of a joint. Even though they’re credit/no credit courses, they are still transferable as elective credits. I hope to obtain nine before I leave here.
It’s funny that you mention psychology because that was the course I took and I happen to find the subject very interesting and insightful. It definitely seems like something that I would like to get into ….
Another Letter from Justin –
Before his Release
…. I see that within this total institution our individuality is stripped away and in a lot of cases people are torn and left exposed to odd influences and agents of specialization that take deeper root. Good community prevents that.
Well, this is it … the home stretch. The cocktail of emotions I feel can only be expressed by a lack of words, and maybe a painting of a stark naked man running off an edge … into the sky. Hopefully this is the last letter I send you from this address …
Happily … IT WAS!