Excerpts from Ignotus Fuego

Ignotus Fuego
is an original play authored by inmates of Washington Corrections Center for Women
during Freehold’s 2009-10 Engaged Theatre residency program. In order to tackle the admirable feat of writing a play, inmates were asked to complete a series of improvisational writing exercises to help them mine their experiences and thought processes. What is published here only represents a small sample of that work, created by over 35 participants. And it’s just a beginning to the powerful exploration of culture and identiy through an allegorical narrative that would eventually grow out of the same inmates’ collaboration with playwright Dickey Nesenger, which I wrote about on the CAB after I saw it performed.

These pieces have been only lightly edited for punctuation and spelling, to preserve the unique character of these voices. Each piece was written by a different author. Names have been withheld to protect the women’s privacy.


I shout out 2 keep my mind alert, I shout loud, though my voice may hurt; I shout out so those around me understand they’re not alone, shoutin’ so deep I feel vibrations in my bones; I shout out so victims can be heard; some refuse 2 speak, so I shout 4 those who are afraid; I shout out because I’m shy and I shout out because I’m brave, I even shout out to misbehave, at least that’s what some call it; I stabilize the mood with a different tone; come enter my zone if ya ain’t afraid 2 shout; let yar tears fall and yar smile fade; open yar ears 2 reality; I’m proud of me, I’m proud of you; I shout out to uplift, I shout and shout and sh-sh-sh-sh-shout when I spit; the mike I rip, in2 a trillion pieces; I shout like a landlord evictin’ lost lives with expired leases; I shout out so ya don’t trip over that hole in the street. The communication franin, keep the perpetrators’ eyes off the innocent. I shout so the murder in progress won’t finish it; I shout “help” 4 those in need and those who can’t read, and those who been kidnapped and who feel they’ve never been freed; I shout out!


It has no color or creed
Yet it lingers inside everything I see
You can’t touch it or smell it
It shows itself in things I do
My culture is unique
For it will not mock you, reject you nor judge you
For my culture has flaws too
When I smile or laugh
Whether I yell or cry
It’s right there the whole time
So when you ask me about my culture—
You see—
Look closely ’cause it’s simple
Cause it’s simply just me.


It was a Monday. I knew I was going to have a visit with my Dad. I got up and took a shower, did my make-up — let my hair down, put gel in it, made it beautiful. Then he didn’t come again; I was mad, hurt. Then the COS said I couldn’t go out on crew again because of my tattoos.  I was hurt — feeling like a monster — why do they keep judging the past? I heard a voice say, cut it off, a blunt, forceful voice, so as I stared at the scissors I picked them up and cut it. I felt this natural high. Oh my God, I cut my hair off.  But it was still there, people looked shocked, but that night as I lay there, the voice came back, and said “shave it, so you can feel the new growth, the prickly feeling on your hands — plus no more bangs blowing in your face.” Oh my God, I’ll save on shampoo. To give birth to new life.  So I went in to the bathroom, razor and scissors in hand, with a mirror. In the shower stall looking in the mirror, I started cutting, crying, cutting and crying. Then, with razor in hand, I started shaving, hair falling, my new life started. I cover my head with my beanie, and went back to my room, and lay there thinking if I can do this, I can do anything.


I shout out to the sparkle of razor wire I wake up to in the morning. I shout out to the pokey bad fitting stupid bras I gotta wear. I shout out to the slab of steel I sleep on every night. I shout out to all the nasty HOs with all the attitude. I shout out to bad food and sour milk. I shout out to all those who want a job but don’t want to work. I shout out to smelly restrooms and people who hate to shower. I shout out to fire drills in the rain and picture card counts at 1:00am. I shout out to the morons who now run my life. But most of all I shout out to an early release date!


I come from a wild child, Biker mama! I come from a place where the smell of old leather makes me feel at home! I come from a ratty old clubhouse with a pool table in the dining room and usually someone’s asleep underneath it! There’s beer on tap in my house! No joke, and not a clean shaven, fancy pants, tweed jacket and loafer wearing sissy in sight! I come from the land of broken windows and bar fights where the sound of a chopper coming up the driveway was what woke me up for school!  That is where I come from but that is not who I am. What was and what is are two very different things and my heart is what walks that fine line. But I still love the smell of old leather.


To learn more about the Engaged Theatre program, please visit

Image: original theatre program from April 2010 performance of Ignotus Fuego at WCCW. Program artwork was drawn by a participating inmate.