Embracing the world with positive creativity since Sept 2007.
It was days before Christmas. Tinsel Town sparkled with blatant extravagance. I liked it – I liked the looks of it. My eyes were fixed on success, and so I walked a straight line between performances -- untouched by distractions. Not that I didn't believe; I had things to do.
This December, our comedy ensemble booked a special holiday performance at Lampoc State Penitentiary. Ten of us sandwiched in a van, made our way to prison. Hoop-tee-do.
We arrived on schedule. The heavy steel gate closed behind us with a bang loud enough to stop my heart. Inside, we followed instructions to empty all contents from our purses and pockets. Our possessions were secured and after being searched, we continued.
What an adventure, I thought.
Two armed guards accompanied us through long corridors permeated by the stench of industrial disinfectants and more frequent than I care to say, rodent sightings. I caught them scurrying from here to there and the thought of that lunch they promised us crossed my mind and well… I had this crawly feeling on the back of my neck and I had started to feel sick. But then I remembered that in a matter of minutes I’d be on a stage telling jokes, and I had to do a good job for goodness sake! Stop it, girl. Stop it! But I felt my sarcastic wit vanishing rather quickly as the grim reality of life behind bars became evident. Several more gates slammed behind us and I felt myself imprisoned.
We were shown into a room where we met the men who would be helping us mount the show. I was so totally unprepared for that. Where’s the fourth wall when you need it? I stood face to face with people who in my thoughts never had a face. Their presence was heavy and I couldn’t make eye contact to save my soul.
The guard introduced us. I looked at my fellow actors hoping they’d say something. Not me – I couldn’t. For the first time in my life, I was speechless. I turned to look at inmates. Their eyes seemed dark and lifeless, their faces taut but expectant at the same time. What I saw before me was just a semblance of human life; flesh, robbed of its essence.
Finally, someone spoke: "Thanks so much for coming, I'm Bob." He invited a handshake. A guard's watchful eye shifted in his direction. He stepped back.
In the true spirit of performance, the show went on. We gave them a glimpse of life, forty-five minutes of laughter, and left. But it wasn’t over for me because the once faceless and nameless statistics now had faces I would not forget.
Tinsel Town's exuberance, somewhat relieved my heaviness. It looked … heavenly? Actually more like a vision of purgatory on its way back from hell.
I was exhausted but somehow happy to know my sarcasm had survived the day. How else could I tell a joke without my naturally twisty sense of reality? I flopped down on the couch, closed my eyes – couldn’t even think about supper – not after lunch with the rodents. Memories of the day kept pushing their way through. My thoughts traveled in countless directions searching, searching…
I had always known without a question, exactly where I was going, but that day it all changed. The straight line I had walked for so long, suddenly made a left turn, took me right into hell and showed me the absence of spirit… it is prison even for those of us who appear to be free.
Carmen Ruggero © 2011