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Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on October 25th, 2011, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 12, Issue 34 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 12, Issue 34

Life on the inside

Poetic Justice Project delivers a performance of Women Behind the Walls at Alcatraz


A group of former inmates recently voluntarily went behind bars again, joining together to spend the night at Alcatraz as part of the Poetic Justice Project.

“It was, for me, being an ex-con and having been locked up before, an awesome thing to be on the island and be with there with the other guys I’ve been locked up with as well,” said Fred “Bull” Chaney. “I was grateful to be there. Not everyone gets the chance to do that.”

Locked up
Women Behind Walls premiered in the infamous Alcatraz prison. The play, produced by the Poetic Justice Project with a cast of former inmates, will come to Santa Maria and Lompoc this week.

Chaney is working on the production Women Behind the Walls, presented by the Poetic Justice Project. The San Francisco-based company We Players recently invited them to premiere the play, performed entirely by former inmates, on the famous Bay Area island facility.

To prepare for the presentation, the cast and crew of Women Behind the Walls got to rehearse at Alcatraz and spend the night.

Chaney did time in San Quentin, but being back behind bars—this time of his own volition—was an exciting experience.

“For me, it was really cool to be able to do that and then walk around inside—and seeing the entire city was kind of cool,” he said about staying the night in cellblock D.

Tina Grace, another Poetic Justice player, felt the same.

“It was intense. Staying the night was fantastic,” she said. “Knowing the history and everything that went on there made it feel very surreal, because you can put yourself in their shoes and see the city they way they saw it, being locked up.”

Grace and her friend stayed in solitary confinement cells, an experience she described as “authentic.” She said she’d heard rumors about Alcatraz being haunted, but she said she didn’t see anything otherworldly because she was so tired she just fell right to sleep. However, three pictures taken that day revealed eerie images of light that appeared in two otherwise dark, windowless rooms.

Haunted or not, the inmates were excited to be able to perform the Claire Braz-Valentine play at the historic venue. Directed by Molly Stuckey, with music by Shawn Collins, the play highlights life behind bars, something that strikes a chord with all the actors. But more than that, it provides them with an opportunity to showcase their talent.

Locked-up ladies
Women Behind the Walls will show in Santa Maria Saturday, Oct. 29, at 2 and 7 p.m. at the Minami Center, 600 W. Enos Dr. On Sunday, Oct. 30, at 2 p.m., see a matinee at the Lompoc Civic Auditorium, 217 S. L St. in Lompoc. Tickets cost $10 for groups of 10 or more, $15 for students and seniors, and $20 for general admission. For tickets, call Brown Paper Tickets at 1-800-838-3006.

“I love being up on the stage,” Grace said. “My character is an actress, so I get to ham it up.”

Whitney Eliott said this is her first production with the Poetic Justice Project: “It has been amazing. I’m cherishing every moment. I’m going to store these memories away in this precious memory box in my mind and go back to them when I feel down or bad about myself.”

Eliott spent time at Chowchilla and said that participating in a production like this made her feel like she was participating in something bigger than herself.

“I really want to send a message that people make mistakes and just because people make bad choices doesn’t mean it should define them,” Eliott said.

Deborah Tobola, Poetic Justice Project artistic director, said she’ll be bringing the show to Santa Maria on Oct. 29 and Lompoc on Oct. 30.

“Alcatraz was very powerful, and using an actual cell, it’s very intense,” she said. “The performance in Santa Maria at Minami will allow the audience to get in very close. I just think the audience is going to be blown away.” 

Arts Editor Shelly Cone has never been to Alcatraz. Contact her at

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