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