HUNTINGTON, Ind. — After volunteering with Shakespeare Behind Bars for seven years and conducting four different summer seminars with their program, Dr. Jack Heller decided it was time to pursue his own prison program here in Indiana.
This fall, Heller, assistant professor of English at Huntington University, began Shakespeare at Pendleton
, a program at the correctional facility in Madison County, Indiana, to guide the inmates through the study and performance of Shakespeare. This maximum-security prison has more than 1,800 inmates and is located near Indianapolis.
The goal of Shakespeare at Pendleton is to increase the cultural opportunities of the inmates while using Shakespeare to help the inmates re-examine their lives.
Currently, the inmates are working on “Coriolanus,” the last tragedy written by Shakespeare with anger as the central theme. Because this program is so new, the men are currently approaching the play as a readers group but will eventually work toward a performance of some kind.
“I would like for the men to wrestle with what roles they are assuming,” he said, explaining that many times when an inmate chooses a character, he can become conflicted because it will resonate with his past life.
Heller said that his hope for the men is that they can maintain the growth they experience while in the program even after they are done.
Heller said that he would like to take groups of Huntington University students to Pendleton like he did with the Shakespeare Behind Bars program. While it is still in its early stages, he said he is still investigating and communicating with the prison directors on how to bring students to the facility.
“You realize the purpose for visiting the prisoner is what we can do for them,” Heller said. “And that’s important, but it’s also about what we can learn about ourselves and that can be our motivation to keep involved in the inmates’ lives.”