I WAS BORN
I was born
I became conscious
I learned to crawl, to stand , to walk
I defied the force of gravity
I learned words
I expressed myself
I was able to want something
I learned rules
I learned to pretend
I came of age
I was able to tell my history
I became responsible
I expressed myself in action and in inaction
I lived one moment to the next
I broke my word
I did not think of the future
I was too much alone
I was not enough alone
I became guilty
I was not what I should have been
I am not what I was
I am aware
Juan Carlos Meza, inspired by Peter Hendke
My name is Songkra Kroung, but most people know me as Smiley. I am a Cambodian native.
CHOY STANDS WITH HIS BACK TO THE AUDIENCE, DOWN STAGE LEFT. SMILEY SPEAKS, DOWN STAGE RIGHT, AND GLANCES AT CHOY OCCASIONALLY, AS IF HE IS LOOKING AT A MIRROR/REFLECTION OF HIMSELF. CROSS UPSTAGE RIGHT, PASS THRU GINO/CARLOS.
I came to the United States as a refugee at the age of 9. I lived in Long Beach, California, from 1981 until I was incarcerated on July 10, 1990 for first-degree gang-related murder.
My name is Anouthinh Pangthong, but everyone calls me Choy. I was born in a refugee camp in Thailand.
LEANS ON SMILEY. LOS/CHRIS GET INTO ARM-GRIP.
My parents are from the neighbouring country of Laos, a country colonised by the French for many years. In 1945, after Laos gained independence from the French, it was the communist regime that took over the government.
JUMPS ONTO ‘LOS/CHRIS’ ARM-BRIDGE.
GINO/CARLOS STOMP AND LIFT SMILEY.
I was raised during the time of the Khmer Rouge genocide. By the age of three, my father, aunt and grandparents were captured and tortured to death by the Khmer Rouge.
CHRIS/’LOS STEP SIDE TO SIDE (STRUGGLE MARCH). CHOY IN BETWEEN, SHOULDER-TO-SHOULDER.
The Lao people have endured relentless mistreatment from their own government. My grandfather, who was in opposition to the government, was held in a re-education camp for ten years.
LOS/CHRIS ON THE GROUND IN AN “X” FORMATION.
There he suffered deplorable conditions and slave labour.
CHOY STEPS ON AND OVER THEM.
My father was a lieutenant in the army of the central Cambodian government.
SMILEY DROPS TO KNEES.
The Khmer Rouge took my father into the jungle and murdered him. His murderers brought his heart to my mother to terrorise and intimate her. They ate my father’s heart in front of her.
GESTURES TO CHEST, PULLING HEART OUT DROP HAND.
I can’t imagine the emotional pain, sadness, and stress that my mother went through on that day. The Khmer Rouge would continue their mass murders.
GINO/CARLOS SWING HIM FORWARD
In 1979 my mother made a decision to leave the country
CHRIS GETS OFF LOS (BREAKS THE “X” FORMATION), LIES NEXT TO LOS FACING THE SAME DIRECTION
SMILEY FALLS TO GROUND. GINO/CARLOS GO TO UPSTAGE RIGHT WITH THEIR BACKS TO THE AUDIENCE.
She crossed a river, downstream, to neighbouring Thailand.
“LOS” ROLL UPSTAGE TO DOWNSTAGE, WITH GINO/CARLOS KICKING THEM.
A bicycle inner tube helped her to stay afloat.
CHOY LEANS ON SMILEY. SMILEY HOLDS HIM UP, LIKE A BABY.
She was two months pregnant with me.
I witnessed and encountered starvation, disease, torture, suffering, pain, stress, crying, confusion, and death. Even though I was young and barely understanding of my surroundings, I did feel hunger, sadness, fear and hopelessness.
EVERYONE CIRCLES BEHIND CHOY.
Once on the other side of the river, a farm worker and his family gave my mother refuge. Soon after, she made her way to the refugee camp. On May 24, 1980, the story of my life begins.
Anouthinh Pangthong & Kroung Songkra
BANKS-LIST OF PEOPLE SHOT
Ahi James Williams
QUESTIONS FROM OPENING CIRCLES
Are criminals made or born?
Are you ever truly separated from your crime?
Can criminals be rehabilitated?
What if there were no prisons?
How do you define “criminal”?
What is innocence?
Does childhood or circumstance make you a criminal?
Does a crime define you for the rest of your life?
What does the stigma/shame of being incarcerated look like?
What is your family status right now?
What are my children doing?
Do you have family members incarcerated?
Are you in a dispute with a family member now? How did you handle it?
Did you grow up with both parents?
If you could choose your own family, who would it be?
What family members do you feel closest to?
Do you define family different than just your blood?
What if you could never see your family again?
Are you connected to the earth? How?
How do you show appreciation for the earth?
If solid walls hold us in prison, what are your walls?
Do you believe food should be your medicine?
If the language of the earth is tsunamis and earthquakes, what is the earth trying to tell us?
Do you get revitalised by going out in nature?
Who does the land belong to?
How can we restore the natural elements?
Do we own this planet?
Are we the last generation?
CAN YOU SEE?
Can you see the long orange line,
All the faces of the wasted youth?
Piled up five stories high,
Human cord wood scent of truth.
Can you see the desperation,
Behind smiling eyes, rotten?
The throwaway generation
some remembered some forgotten.
Can you see the withered old grey men
Being squeezed for their last breath
Behind the walls, beyond their time
‘Til their only hope becomes death.
Behind the hope gone rotten
Can you see the desperation
far too long in isolation
too many dreams forgotten
What if my parents never brought us to America?
What if my family was rich?
What if I had parents that helped me?
What if learned to play soccer as a child?
What if my children came to prison?
What if everyone grew up with a mom and dad at home?
What if no one had to worry about money?
What if I was never born?
What if I never sold drugs?
What if I went to college?
What if we were all one race?
What if there was no gravity?
What if my brother was never killed?
What if I never joined a gang?
What if my parents stayed together?
What if over half those now incarcerated were not in the next 3 years?
What if I had grown up in just one household?
What if I had been a good father?
What if I had followed my instincts?
What if Martin Luther King Jr. was alive?
What if the towers never fell?
What if violence could be removed from a person’s desire?
What if everyone believed in God?
What if this was all a dream?
What if I didn’t believe all my thoughts?
What if everyone was rich?
What if money didn’t exist?
What if there was no such a thing as violence?
What if people quit listening?
What if there was no God?
What if there was no law?
What if we traded places?
What if you could right all your wrongs?
I wake up at 5am, always at 5, never at 4:30, never at 5:30
I always wake up at 5am.
I set my day in order
I make coffee, 1 teaspoon of Folgers, always Folgers instant
I use cream and 1 packet, just 1 packet of sugar
I walk the 39 stairs down to the Chow Hall,
39 stairs, 13 stairs in each tier,
Three tiers of stairs
I look at the line or stand in the line
I am either looking at lines or standing in lines
The same faces, the same people, standing or looking at the lines
I sit in the same seat every morning
13 rows in, never the 12th, not the 14th
Always the 13th row in,
I sit in the same seat.
They don’t bother me in the morning
In the evening they will stop me
But not in the morning, in the morning they never bother me.
On Monday and Friday there is peanut butter in box lunches
The rest of the week, it is a brown bag lunch.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Meat, sealed carrots and a cookie
On Monday and Friday there is peanut butter in box lunches
But never on Tuesday, never on Wednesday, or on Thursday
ALL THE PLACES I’VE BEEN INCARCERATED
81’ I was 21, Picayune, Mississippi
88’ Long Beach City Jail, L.A. County Jail
Delano 94’, 27
I was 19, Van Nuys County Jail
12 years old,1992 Boys Intake/Alameda County Juvenile Hall
35, L.A. County Jail, Glass House
14, 1994, Timeout in room/2nd Step Group Home, Fremont, CA
89’ Chino Reception, Corcoran
84’, 85’ I was in my early 20’s, Ceres, California
New Folsom 94’, I was 27
Wasco 2000, I was 32
89’-92’ Old Folsom
I’m 17 in the Back of a paddy waggon
85’ I was 24, Old Folsom
89’, 90’, 99’ late 20’s, late30’s, New Folsom
2011, 50, Old Folsom
Soledad 2002, I was 34
18, 1998 Holding tank/North County Jail
21 in 2001 Dark Room/Oakland Superior Court House
94’- San Quentin State Prison
51 San Quentin State Prison
2014, 2015, 53, 54, San Quentin
San Quentin 2012 until today, I am 48
WOULD YOU RATHER HAVE…
Los: Would you rather have truth or respect?
Luke: Truth, because it always finds its way to the top.
Los: Would you rather have money or trust?
Luke: Trust…you can’t buy trust with money, but if you trust the right people money will come.
Los: Would you rather have health or love?
Luke: Health, so I can find love.
Los: Would you rather have time or wisdom?
Luke: Time, if I have time I can gain wisdom, but wisdom doesn’t mean I have time to use it.
Los: Would you rather have loyalty or happiness?
Luke: Happiness, when I find my own happiness, I am being loyal to myself
Los: Would you rather have freedom or security?
Luke: Freedom, security is fleeting.
Luke Glen Padgett & Juan Carlos Meza
Richie’s call in the corner
Pre-recorded partial list
Things that have happened since he’s been inside
Invasion of Iraq
American Idol Premieres
Gas costs over $2.00
Krispy Cream Donuts
49’ers win Super Bowl
Flat Screen TV
Credit cards, everyone has one
16 WAYS TO DISAPPEAR
1. find a place you would rather be
(step in front of partners)
2. catch hold of the wind
3. blend into everything around you
(clump around roach)
4. move only when others blink
(look over shoulder /step back)
5. let your questions answer themselves
(crumple paper in front of you)
6. step behind something larger than you are
(step behind paper ball)
7. get inside something bigger than you are
(roach leaves center of circle)
8. hide in plain site and then come out when everyone else has gone home
(go to ground)
9. agree, agree, agree again
(uncrumple smooth out paper)
10. stand still until grass starts to grow on you
(arm extends with paper)
11. be as still as furniture, never touch anything
12. go far enough away so that you are a forgotten memory
(walk off stage- towards chairs)
13. anticipate needs so you won’t be asked
(box to floor)
14. wear too many layers of clothing and carry lots of bags
(go into box)
15. live in a cardboard house downtown or under a bridge with a dog
(start movement on floor- stand walk to back wall)
(head in box- slide down wall- walk off)
Ronell Draper, inspired by Leslie Seiters
GINO & NATE
They never used my name
I went through the whole process alone- no family, no friends
They said… because no one was there with me, that no one cared.
When I came to prison as a lifer I began the process of disappearing
First good friends gave up staying in contact.
It seemed clear that I was forgotten. (whispered)
They never used my name, I was called defendant
And from there I became a number.
It seemed clear that I was forgotten (whispered)
Every time the mail gets passed out- I disappear (whispered)
Every weekend that goes by and I don’t get a visit- I disappear
Every time I hear about the death of a friend or a family member- I disappear
Each year I eat another Christmas meal in prison- I disappear
Each time someone I know in prison paroles- I disappear
When I see new lifers, many of them young- in their twenties- I disappear
20 years into my sentence and the world spins on without me
so in a way, my life has already disappeared.
Gino Sevacos & Nate Collins
I’ve always been about race.
It’s genetic, don’t you know that.
I was born, and I knew what my father
I had to work twice as hard
do twice as much
to come in second to a white boy.
My father was light-skinned.
I remember feeling ashamed because I wasn’t light-skinned.
My brothers weren’t light skinned.
I remember my father dating only very dark women.
As if to say, “Sons, there’s
nothing wrong with being dark.”
I was a glass half-empty
All I saw was a lot of beautiful women
who loved a light-skinned man.
My best friend in 4th grade was an Asian boy.
I got into a fight with another friend, he
I remember all the white kids who surrounded us
rooted for the other guy.
My name’s Emile.
I looked up and saw my best friend, Michael Lu.
He was rooting for the other guy too.
My mother survived the Nigerian Civil War.
She never told me about it because it was
My family was hunted and interned in death camps.
She told me how my grandmother snuck the
children to safety in the African
night on the river.
My grandfather was a doctor. When they caught
him, that was the only reason he survived; they
needed a doctor for their soldiers.
I never knew who I was.
Then my mother told me her story, and
now I know who I am. I know that even
before I was born, I was strong enough to
survive the Nigerian Civil War.
Emile Deweaver & Lemar Harrison
We lost her and fear rushed
Into the space she left, clapping
Through us like air collapsing
Around a vacuum. Fear of
Waking in a trashcan
Fear that life’s a ding-dong
Ditch, open door, queue
Crickets. We all want to turn
It back; can you blame us?
We’ve spent our lives wanting
To turn it back, snatch it
Back and take our kid
To school, applaud at his
Graduation, dance at her
Wedding. Take back a funeral
and go to college, go to the big
Game, go to Hollywood. If
We could take it back, one drop
In this space time continuum,
Perhaps life would shift and
Reveal what’s hiding, perhaps
We could call the past twenty
Years “practice.” Then the first
Days missed weren’t for naught
But for this moment when
Twenty-six people put their
Hands in God’s palm and
Took it back.