ONE 10 • Prisons Inside and Out

On May 17, 2010, the justices of the US Supreme Court, in a miraculous decision, barred life terms for young offenders who haven’t committed murder. Miraculous because the current court leans decidedly to the right, and also because we in the US are very good at locking up and throwing away the key, rather than figuring out what to do with ex-convicts once they are released. In short, what we do is next to nothing, (apart from a train fare and a ride to the station) and “rehabilitation” has become a curse word, as well as perceived as a financial drain.

Prisons inside and out
— Lisa Del Rosso

Eventually, 95% of prisoners will be released, and not just here – the UK shares our punitive mindset as well. In the spring off-Broadway production of British playwright Chloe Moss’s “This Wide Night,” she takes two of these fictional ex-convicts, two Englishwomen, played by Alison Pill (in her 20’s) and Edie Falco (in her 50’s), and lets them loose on society, dealing with their newfound freedom. Except they don’t. They don’t deal at all.

Pill’s Marie has been out of jail for a while, and lives in a dump of a bedsitter (known as an SRO in the US). When Falco’s Lorraine, newly released, knocks on the door to see how her former cellmate is faring, Marie, huddled in a crappy chair and watching a jumpy television screen, jumps herself, and not for joy. Clearly she does not want to be disturbed, and Lorraine does just that: probing, questioning, trying to re-establish their friendship. But Marie’s dump has become its own jail, and is not easily penetrated. Neither is the façade she has put up to keep others out.

Marie and Lorraine are not prepared for this new world of freedom, and have no skills whatsoever in order to survive: no personal skills, no family, no jobs, little money. No support system. Marie lies, and says she has a job in a pub, but after staying out one too many nights, Lorraine finds her out. She has her own troubles: an estranged son whom she also lies about, but in the end, Lorraine has been behind bars for twelve years, and he wants nothing to do with her. In this nearly plotless play, it takes a long time for these two women to finally realize that they are, in fact, on the same side. They are equal in their helplessness.

Falco and Pill are expert in their portrayals, and there is not a shred of self-pity in either. They are, alternately, angry, bewildered, affecting and Pill’s false bravado is wrenching.
Chloe Moss spent a writer’s residency in a prison in Kent, England; her research there yielded the material for “This Wide Night.” It is now performed in women’s prisons throughout the United Kingdom. Without proselytizing or preaching, Moss clearly identifies something wrong with this picture. She offers no real answers, and yet her play cries out for solutions for both characters and the prison system. The US Supreme Court decision is a step, but offers no remedy for what happens once young offenders, who will certainly do some time and probably not be so young when released, are given their freedom. That bleak picture needs to change.

[ONE] © 2010 Polwarth Publishing LLP all rights reserved