Each week on Five Things, we talk with someone about five physical objects that hold significance in his or her life. We’ve had actors, musicians, writers — all kinds of creative people but not just people who make their living through creative work — accountants, parents, physicians. One of my goals for this podcast is to seek out a truly diverse range of guests, in every sense.
This week, my guest is someone who spends some of his time in creative work, but it’s not something he ever imagined he’d do. James Prichard is a member of Shakespeare Behind Bars, a theater troupe based at the Luther Luckett Correctional Complex in LaGrange, Kentucky. That also means — he’s incarcerated there.
I’ve been attending Shakespeare Behind Bars performances for several years now, and they are truly remarkable. The shows are held in the chapel at the prison, and it’s always amazing to see the quality of work that the performers display. Many of the inmates also speak of how the program has brought value, healing and friendship to their lives. I asked Matt Wallace, the director of Shakespeare Behind Bars, if he could recommend one of the group members for an episode of this podcast, and he suggested Prichard.
After a lengthy approval process, I went to the prison to interview Prichard in the visiting room. I’ve been thinking about our conversation ever since we recorded it in November. I had a very human conversation with someone who once did something truly terrible, and it’s made me think more carefully about how I feel about justice, retribution and rehabilitation. I hope you make time to listen.
On how his participation in the Shakespeare program has affected him:
“I know it’s kind of sad to say, but I really didn’t understand what a friend was or how to be a friend until I came to prison and joined Shakespeare Behind Bars. Then I started realizing what it meant to be a friend, what it meant to let somebody be your friend, and just to be able to open up in a safe environment, to express yourself.”
On a photo of his daughter when she was about 3 years old:
“She was a major turning point, her birth was a major turning point in my life. It was the start of my growth process, realizing that the way I was living wasn’t necessarily right. I would live day to day, I would work hard to get the money that I would have, but the money that I would have would go for partying, drugs, just in one hand and right out the other. But when she was born, it changed all that. It gave me something to be more responsible to besides myself.”
On getting his GED in prison:
“I realized that, with me being in here, I needed to take every opportunity I could to better myself on a daily basis. Cause if not, then all what happened would have been for nothing. I can’t just sit here and sit on my hands, I’ve got to come out of here a better person. I’ve got to learn from my mistakes, I’ve got to be that person I always wanted to be, and it started with the GED.”